House Leaders End Night's Negotiations Without Deal
By Paul Kane
After nearly seven hours of closed-door talks on landmark health-care legislation, top House leaders exited with hoarse voices and the need for some "shut eye".
But still no deal.
Pushing to restart the final committee action needed on the more than $1 trillion proposal, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel spent all afternoon and evening huddled with his former House colleagues in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Capitol office. House leaders joined the talks with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and seven conservative Democrats, the members of Waxman's panel who are blocking final committee consideration of the health-care proposal.
Those Democrats are concerned about plans to have a government-financed "public option" to private insurance, particularly if the government payments to health-care providers are tied to Medicare reimbursement rates, which they allege are skewed toward urban areas. That's just one of about 10 to 12 areas of concern, according to Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the leader of the Democratic opposition.
When he entered the second round of those talks Tuesday evening, Ross said, "Many of them remain unresolved."
As talks broke up after 9 p.m., Ross and almost every Democrat stuck to the same script: "We're making progress."
Negotiators are expected back at Pelosi's conference room table Wednesday morning, but as critical an issue as the policy parameters of their talks is the calendar. The House has a planned five-week summer break set to begin Friday.
Leadership is no longer demanding a full House vote and instead is focusing on approving a deal with the commerce committee, which would set the legislation up for a post-Labor Day vote. Aides say the planned recess could start on Friday evening, but only if there's a global agreement with Ross and his allies on the committee to reach approval on resuming the legislative markup, which would allow the panel to approve the plan late this week. Otherwise, the House could remain in session over the weekend or into next week.
How close are they to achieving a deal? Depends on who's talking about the state of negotiations.
"They stand as they stood last night," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday night, suggesting not much headway had been made since he attended a long session Monday evening of committee Democrats. "Everyone wants to get a little bit of shut-eye."
Ross had a better assessment, sticking to the "progress" line voiced by so many others. Pelosi left with a hoarse voice, barely able to talk. "We're still working," she told reporters.
Emanuel's presence suggests these are the most critical moments. He has played the role of deal closer in every major legislative battle of the Obama White House, from the $787 billion stimulus to the Senate's rejection of ordering a new round of F22 fighter jets.
Aides and lawmakers say Emanuel, a former member of House leadership who was a close ally of Ross's Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats, is there as a mediator. He's been going through the lists of concerns from the Blue Dogs while also trying to find middle ground among the competing offers and counter-offers. Aides, requesting anonymity to speak about the closed-door negotiations, said the two sides are close on most of the key sticking points but still not there yet.
"He's respected by both sides, someone we all consider a close friend," Ross said of Emanuel's presence.
Ross is one of seven Blue Dogs on Waxman's committee refusing to approve the current draft legislation, which numbers more than 1,000 pages. If all seven refuse to back the bill, they would sink it, as there are 36 Democrats and 23 Republicans on the committee.
Ross said Wednesday that all seven are likely to remain a united bloc, either all agreeing or all nixing the final offer.
July 28, 2009; 10:49 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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