Health Overhaul Moves One Step Forward, One Back The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved its version of a health care measure Friday, clearing the way for a full House vote in September. Compromise, however, is proving elusive for a small negotiating group of three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee.
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Health Overhaul Moves One Step Forward, One Back

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Health Overhaul Moves One Step Forward, One Back


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand with the latest on the health care overhaul legislation creeping slowly through Congress. Some progress was made today in the House before it went on recess for August. In the Senate, though, no agreement in a key committee and none expected before senators go on break next week.

NPR's Julie Rovner has the latest.

Unidentified Woman: Ms. Schakowsky.

Representative JAN SCHAKOWSKY (Democrat, Illinois): No.

Unidentified Woman: Ms. Schakowsky, no.

JULIE ROVNER: That's the sound of members voting on an amendment to the huge health bill at the House Energy and Commerce Committee. After a 10-day delay, it was music to the ears of Democratic leaders and the White House, who feared the measure might not make it through the pivotal committee, not just before the August recess, but ever. On Wednesday, House leaders cut a deal with conservative so-called Blue Dog Democrats to cut roughly $100 billion from the measure's 10-year $1 trillion cost and make other changes.

Without those Blue Dog votes, the bill couldn't have gotten out of committee. But the deal infuriated liberals who then threatened to withhold their votes. It took until around midnight last night to get all the committee's Democrats on the same page. Committee chairman Henry Waxman of California announced the compromise rather obliquely this morning.

Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): We're going to have a series of amendments that will include the Blue Dog amendment and several other amendments. And we hope members will look kindly on these amendments.

ROVNER: But even as the House seemed to be getting its act together, things were coming apart in the Senate. Last night, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said that the three Democrats and three Republicans, who've been trying to reach a compromise all month, would not finish before the end of next week when the Senate is set to start its summer break.

Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker says not having committee work complete in the Senate is a big problem. It not only sets back the calendar further, but more importantly, it gives opponents of the overhaul effort more ammunition.

Professor JACOB HACKER (Political Scientist, Yale University): Every day that this gets delayed, that there isn't actual legislation to talk about and to reassure Americans about and to show the benefits of, it gets easier and easier for the critics of action to paint this as a huge government takeover that's going to destroy American health care and drive up people's costs and kill the quality of American medicine. And that's the danger.

ROVNER: Hacker is among those liberals who think that the Republicans in the negotiating group - Olympia Snowe of Maine, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming - have no intention of ever agreeing to a compromise.

Prof. HACKER: I've been calling this the rope-a-dope strategy of the Republican Party. While Mitch McConnell and other conservative Republicans are savaging any attempt to take on this issue, there are a handful of Republicans who are in the room with Senator Baucus who are just dragging their feet.

ROVNER: North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, one of the other Democratic negotiators, disagrees with that contention.

Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): I believe the Republicans in that room are absolutely sincere. I believe they are being fully constructive, that they know what we know, which is the country needs us to succeed on this. Failure is not an option.

ROVNER: But unless lawmakers settle on a plan soon and figure out how to sell it to a wary American public, failure is certainly a possibility.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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