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What's Going on in the House?


Now that Henry Waxman has struck a deal with the Blue Dogs and the Blue Dogs have struck a deal with the liberals, health-care reform looks like it's finally leaving Energy and Commerce. But it's worth taking a moment to explain what's been going on over the past few days.

Much of this fight was a byproduct of the peculiarities of the committee system. Health-care reform, in theory, should go through three separate committees: Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor. Education and Labor is quite liberal. Ways and Means a bit less so. And Energy and Commerce has an uncommonly high number of Blue Dogs. So that's where health-care reform got bottled up.

Ways and Means and Education and Labor both passed their bills easily. The priority, though, was to get health-care reform out of Energy and Commerce. That's true for a couple of reasons. One of them is that so long as the bill sits in that committee, it's vulnerable to all manner of poisonous amendments proposed by Republican members and designed to put Blue Dogs in uncomfortable positions. Henry Waxman spent a lot of time beating back abortion-related amendments last night, for instance.

The House floor, by contrast, is a friendlier and more flexible place. The large and liberal Democrat majority can do a lot more to pass amendments to satisfy key legislators while blocking those meant to harm the bill. A Blue Dog worried around rural hospitals, for instance, can potentially be satisfied with an amendment protecting rural hospitals, rather than a major change to the public plan. Indeed, my sense from talking to various sources on the Hill is that everyone thinks this stuff can be worked out on the floor. But the peculiarly conservative composition of Energy and Commerce makes it a fraught place to conduct your negotiations and make your concessions.

All that said, unlike the Senate, the House has cleared hurdle after hurdle. The Blue Dogs struck a deal with Waxman. And now the liberals and the Blue Dogs have struck a deal with each other. There's a lot of horse-trading left to be done on the floor. But there's reason for confidence that whatever disputes arise, the House leadership can resolve them. The Senate is trickier.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 31, 2009; 1:27 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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The Senate would be a damned sight less tricky if Max Baucus wasn't elevating people like Mike Enzi to a key role in the process.

To pass health care reform, we probably need to win over Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, in case Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd are too sick to make it to the Senate floor for the cloture vote.

I can't see the need for winning over Chuck Grassley. However problematic Ben Nelson might be, he's still more of a Democrat than Grassley will be in his best moment during this process.

But Enzi's just plain off the charts - he's one of the ten most conservative Senators, from one of the two or three most conservative states in the Union. A healthcare bill that can get votes Enzi-deep in the conservative end of the GOP caucus wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel.

Posted by: rt42 | July 31, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I see Schumers fingers all over this. The Medicare plus public plan could probably only get 33 votes in the senate.

This new verision that Blue Dogs want is just like the HELP public plan. My count (with some guesses) is that Schumer's "level playing feild" plan could get 53 votes in the senate with arm twisting.

the co-ops plan will crash and burn when Rockefeller's GAO report comes back.

My money is the HELP public plan gets passed when reform goes through reconcilation.

Posted by: JonWa | July 31, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

It has been a long while (in my memory, anyway) since the House insisted on its preogatives as the peoples' house. Spending, in particular, is House biz (they must initiate spending bills).

Reid must be able to say that the House 'insists' - specifically in the conference committee to resolve House/Senate differences. So look to whom the House appoints to the Conf. Comm. That will be the key to a good bill v. a bad bill.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | July 31, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Can you grasp the concept that increased regulation increases compliance costs? Can you then grasp that only large companies can afford these compliance costs? So what do you think happens when regulation is further increased?

If you can grasp this logic then how can you complain about a lack of competition in the health insurance market? Less regulation means more players in the health insurance market and more choices for consumers. You cannot claim that this reform effort is designed to increase consumer choice when it increases regulation and compliance costs that will further contract the market.

If the increased regulations bankrupt the private insurers then what will the public option do when it can no longer shift costs to private insurers and blaim them for all of the popular discontent with the fact that healthcare costs money? I know you don't have a problem with private insurers going bankrupt but if they're not around to shield the Government then the Government will go bankrupt too.

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | July 31, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

The difference I'd submit is a lack of liberal leadership in the Senate. The House is lead by liberals in very safe blue seats who work to put out good legislation while protecting their members. It's a good arrangement that provides for a smoother process.

In the senate; we've got Reid constantly looking over his shoulder (to the point he doesn't insult his republican couterpart) and a leadership in the committees w/a red state tilt. If we had blue state senators leading these committees they'd be IMO working harder to get a deal done.

Compare Dodd and Baucus.

Posted by: Rhoda | July 31, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

"The large and liberal Democrat majority"

DemocratIC majority! DemocratIC majority! DemocratIC majority!

I'm perpetually shocked and amazed that people who sympathize with the DemocratIC party's goals ever use this poll-tested slur.

Stop it. Messaging is important. And it's much better to be the DemocratIC party than the Democrat party. Not to mention, it's the only accurate way to refer to it.

Posted by: theorajones1 | July 31, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Cut the chase Ezra here - truth is Sen. Baucus screwed this. Why GOP on his committee are important as 'proxies' of conservative leaning Dems? Can he not talk directly with those conservative Dems? Or that is the way to stunt Ben Nelson?

But you know what - who cares for all these maneuvers and shenanigans of Senate? To manage those was Sen. Baucus's job and he has failed here. Of course we are talking here getting the bill 'on time'. We are not much interested if it comes next year.

White House will be obviously smart to continue to praise Sen. Baucus, Sen. Grassley until the bills pass; but I would expect White House takes the first opportunity to 'place' Baucus back in his place. It will be a surprise if he remains the committee chairperson after all this fiasco.

Sen. Baucus is the culprit here and he will have to pay the price for all this delay which has permanently dented credibility of Obama.

Posted by: umesh409 | July 31, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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