Liberals and a small core of conservative Democrats set aside long-standing ideological differences early Friday to cut a deal that should allow the House Energy and Commerce Committee to approve a sweeping health care bill, breaking a two-week deadlock that threatened President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.
Blue Dog Democrats on the committee, who are the linchpin in the House health care debate, agreed to allow their liberal colleagues to cut billions from existing government-funded health care programs in order to restore some $50 billion to $65 billion in subsidies set aside in the bill to help middle-income families purchase coverage.
This final agreement should clear the way for committee passage later today. Energy and Commerce is the last of the three House committees to consider the bill, so passage will put the package in the hands of party leaders for a titanic fight when Congress returns in the fall over the government's role in health care.
In the meantime, Waxman also lost one moderate Blue Dog out of his coalition, Rep. Zach Space. That means only three of the seven Blue Dogs on the committee have signed on. Despite this agreement, I am still of the opinion that the bill, in its current form, has little to no chance of becoming law.
The bill will have now passed out of three House committees. The Blue Dogs are still not all on board. If the Energy Committee is an indication, slightly more than half are still voting against the bill. The liberal wing is also not that happy with the new bill. It's unclear how many of the full chamber will be lost when it comes to a full vote. You're probably looking at between 25-30 Blue Dogs that will vote against this bill. Only 39 Democrats can vote against the bill and still have it pass. (if the Republicans vote in unison against it) So, passage out of the House is by no means a certainty.
Things are even more murky in the Senate. There, there isn't even a bill yet. Right now the bill has to walk a very tight rope between the liberal and moderate wing of the party. It has barely enough support to pass out of the House. Democrats can only hope for that kind of "success" in the Senate. Then, it still has to be reconciled and maintain that support.
I haven't even started talking about the month break yet. Now, lawmakers will go back to their districts and hear from their constituents. The bill is a lot less popular in the country than it is in the Democratic caucus. Furthermore, we'll have two more jobs numbers before there is a vote. If we're still losing 400,000 or more for the month of August (numbers that would come out the first Friday of September), then, in my opinion, all hope for passage of health care reform this year would be lost. The economy would be judged to still be in free fall and there'd be no confidence in any of the president's agenda at that point.
Support for both the president and this bill is falling and the momentum is against it. It's months before it winds up being law at best. So, between now and then, something must change to turn around the momentum. So, the message will need to be recalibrated, if you will, or the economy will have to show a remarkable turnaround. If not, the bill, as it stands now, will still not pass.