House Democrats Clinch Health Care Deal

Members of the House and Senate report significant progress on plans to overhaul health care. Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats reached an agreement with House leaders and the White House. And, senators got a boost when the Congressional Budget Office issued a report saying their bill would come in at $900 billion over 10 years. That's well under the $1 trillion-target set by the White House.

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This is the moment when Democrats confront the reality of who they sent to Congress. They won big majorities, partly by fielding relatively conservative candidates in many districts. Now those Democrats are forcing changes to health care legislation, as committees in the House and Senate move closer to bills.

NPR's Julie Rovner reports on Democrats who won concessions from a powerful liberal chairman.

JULIE ROVNER: House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman has faced down some pretty formidable legislative foes in his 35 years in Congress. He usually gets what he wants. But Arkansas Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross pronounced himself satisfied with the deal he was able to cut with Waxman after nearly 10 days of closed-door negotiations.

Representative MIKE ROSS (Democrat, Arkansas): We've cut the cost of the bill by more than $100 billion. We've protected small businesses, we've saved rural hospitals and we have ensured that members of Congress, the American people have the entire month of August to read the bill and visit with their constituents.

ROVNER: In exchange, Ross and three of his fellow Blue Dogs promised to vote to allow the bill to move out of Waxman's committee by the end of the week just before members leave town for their summer break. That would clear the way for a vote by the full House when lawmakers return in September. Meanwhile, across the capital, where a small group of Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee had been huddling all month to try to craft a compromise, there was some good news too. According to finance chairman Max Baucus, it came in the form of a new estimate from the Congressional budget office on the outlines of a potential deal.

Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana, Chairman, Senate Finance Committee): The current draft of the bill scores below $900 billion over 10 years, covers 95 percent of all Americans by 2015 and is fully offset.

ROVNER: Now other members of the negotiating team, like Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, were quick to add that the Senate deal was far from done.

Senator CHUCK GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): There might be five percent of the issues left to decide, so 95 percent of them are decided but the five percent that are left over are tough decisions yet to make.

ROVNER: Meanwhile, President Obama, at a town hall meeting in North Carolina, tried to make the best of the news that lawmakers were going to miss the voting deadline he had set for them.

President BARACK OBAMA: So that means that any one of these Senators if they want to take this bill home with them during the August recess, they would have more than enough time to read it.

ROVNER: In fact, the president added, when members of Congress return in September…

President OBAMA: If they want to come over to the White House and go over, line by line, what's going on, I'll be happy to do that.

ROVNER: Mr. Obama better watch out given how complicated these proposals are, some of them just might take him up on that offer.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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