House Leadership Scrambles To Contain Fallout, Right Course On Health Care

Congressional Quarterly/Newscom
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It is now evident to House leadership that their plan to amend the Senate health care bill and toss it back over to the upper chamber for final passage has been scuttled. Members of the House Democratic caucus are wandering far off the reservation, and the longer that persists, the more difficult it will be for leadership to pull them back into the corral.

In an attempt to regain control over an increasingly chaotic situation, leadership will hold a caucus meeting this afternoon*, and at stake could be the fate of the reform drive that has eaten most of the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

To right the course, they’ll have to convince rank and file members–but particularly progressives, who are now in full revolt–that success is still possible, half measures won’t do, and failure is not an option. Given what members are saying, though, that won’t be easy.“What probably would be the best, at least from my perspective, for us to do, the best thing on health care, is to send pieces of the program — pass them here, send them to the senate. Let the American people digest this bit by bit, bite by bite, because it is a very full plate and it’s very complicated,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

Yarmuth’s sentiments were echoed by Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA). “I think what we’re going to have to do is do it on an incremental basis,” Delahunt said. “There are aspects of both bills that have broad support. Some of it bipartisan. I think we take those measures, bring them to the floor and vote on them, and explain them.”

Last night, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) told reporters, “When you have successful things like the public option, where the public grabs it and the White House walks away from it, you know sometimes I think that to some degree this outcome wasn’t that unexpected.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus says there’s not much chance the Senate bill can pass on its own, and would like to see the entire reform process rerouted through the budget reconciliation process.

An aide to a progressive member echoes these sentiments. “This could be a golden opportunity in stemming the tea party tide,” the aide said.

Come out and simply say “We get it.” Admit people are angry, they thought it was too much. Come back with a cheaper, leaner, and tougher bill that jettisons the idiotic deal with PhRMA that we never should have made, throw in the tough insurance reforms that everyone agrees with (rescissions, preexisting conditions, antitrust reform, annual and lifetime caps), add some subsidies for small businesses and the truly poor. Then throw in drug reimportation and Medicare negotiating for lower drug prices as a modest cost control measure. No more backroom deals with Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman. No union payoffs. Then we bring it to the floor and dare Republicans to vote against it.

If we do this we can still get something worthwhile. We can tell our angry, progressive base that we tried, we really tried to give them comprehensive reform that we promised, but the Republicans that are beholden to the drug and insurance companies killed it. And we tell the Tea Partiers and independents that we listened to them and came back with a bill that they wanted from the beginning. If Republicans vote against the new bill, I can picture the ads in November and they will be devastating. If they vote for it, we get credit for salvaging some modest, but real reform. And it’s something we can build on going forward.

That’s a wide array of opinion, and disgruntled members will likely have to be placated in a significant, and tangible way if reform is to survive. We should know soon how and whether Democrats find a fix.

*Late update: Democrats have canceled their caucus meeting, originally scheduled for this afternoon. Instead, leaders will meet with key, disgruntled members individually, in the hopes of shoring up for health care reform. The caucus meeting has been rescheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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