Energy And Commerce Deal: What It Means For Health Care

Blue Dogs on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have reportedly reached a deal with Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) on health care reform that will allow legislation to pass the committee before August recess begins on Friday. There will be no vote on health care in the full chamber before recess,a s part of the deal--but all parts of the three-committee House bill will be complete one Energy and Commerce passes its portion.

The committee has made no formal announcement of the deal yet; it has announced, however, that it will meet at 4 p.m. today to resume consideration of the bill.

So what does this mean for the chances of health care reform? It's progress, and it breathes some life into the reform initiative that has, at times, appeared doomed--progress with the fiscally conservative Democrats who, at this point, represent the prime obstacle. The stalled committee negotiations are stalled no longer; reformers can rejoice.

It also gives those moderate/conservative Democrats some cover when they head back to their districts in August--something that could pave the way for House passage of a deal reformers like, once recess is over. The Blue Dogs succeeded in cutting $100 billion from the plan, and while the pricetag will still be high, Politico reports that, after this deal, it will be under $1 trillion. Without a full House vote before recess, most Blue Dogs won't be pinned down on health care, one way or another--just the four on Energy and Commerce with whom the deal was struck. You might hear Blue Dogs deflect conservative fire over recess by saying, "We're continuing to look for ways to cut costs, and we won't rush anything." If they're concerned about falling in line with liberal party honchos against the interest of their constituents, this should help.

In that respect, it's not just a policy compromise, but a political one: Democratic leaders and the White House will head into recess ready to move forward on health legislation, without a month of talk about how reform is dead; Blue Dogs won't have to vote before then.

It's questionable whether this will influence Senate negotiats at all. "The Finance Committee is moving forward independent of the House," one Senate aide told me. There, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and a handful of other members are holding their own talks, which have become the focal point of health care in the Senate.

As with all legislation where concensus is difficult to reach, health care could see a three-part process: passage in the House, passage in the Senate, and a conference committee to reconcile the two versions. Today's deal moves reform forward on the first front, but probably no more and no less.