Menu

Politics

EXECUTIVE

Key House Panel Cancels Health Care Session as Moderate Democrats Voice Concerns

A key House committee on Tuesday indefinitely postponed voting on health care reform legislation after Democratic leaders were unable to line up enough votes from moderate members of their own party. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee canceled the session as it faced serious concerns about the legislation from fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who hold a large number of seats on the panel. The Energy and Commerce Committee is the only House panel with jurisdiction over health care that has not completed writing its version of the reform bill.  

President Obama, trying to rally support to the package, met with those Democrats Tuesday afternoon. Sources told FOX News they met for a couple hours and mainly discussed ways to contain the costs of the comprehensive plan. While sources said the meeting was "productive," at least one suggested there was little progress on the actual bill. 

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., a Blue Dog and member of the energy committee, told FOX News that they agreed to create what Ross called a "Medicare Advisory Council" that would be comprised of public and private individuals to help bring down the cost of the federal health program.

But Senate Republicans have said they won't agree to the creation of the council without congressional oversight. 

Obama stressed before going into the meeting that lawmakers have already forged unprecedented consensus on health care and expressed confidence that they could finish what they started. 

"We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need and we're going to get the job done," Obama said, accusing some of his critics of trying to score "political points" at the expense of health care reform. 

But he and his congressional allies still have a lot of Democrats to convince. 

"We have ongoing discussions with members," committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in a brief statement announcing that the markup set for Tuesday had been canceled. "I think we're making good progress, and I want to pursue those discussions further." 

A markup is where the committee essentially finalizes the bill, going through it line-by-line and accepting or rejecting amendments.

The two other House committees with jurisdiction over health care legislation -- Ways and Means and Education and Labor -- approved their versions of the package last week. 

But the Energy and Commerce Committee was considered the toughest lift for advocates of the bill on the table, which could carry a price tag of up to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The Blue Dog Democrats on the committee say they are worried about the cost of the bill, tax increases that could be attached to it and the speed at which the House is trying to adopt it. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggested that deep divisions among Democrats could preclude the House from having enough votes to approve it before the August recess. 

"We want to pass it next week," Hoyer said at his weekly meeting with reporters. "If we get consensus, we'll do it." 

Next week is the final week the House is scheduled to be in session until September. But the Maryland Democrat said he didn't believe it would be productive to delay the break if the health bill isn't wrapped up. 

"I don't think staying in session is necessarily necessary to getting consensus," Hoyer said. 

Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., one of the lawmakers invited to the session with Obama, said his main concern is not having enough time to review the legislation before a House vote.

"We're just not there yet," he said. "We're getting there." 

To secure his vote, Hill said he's seeking specific cuts in cost and wants a better understanding about how "bundling" health care dollars would work. Under the current fee-for-service system, health insurance companies currently divide up payments among doctors, technicians and nurses. Bundling would tie all payments together.

"They don't have the votes with the language they've got now," said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., another so-called Blue Dog. Boyd said he'd like to see the House take a break on health care and punt to the Senate. 

Since the political chasms in the Senate are considered wider, any bill that passes the Senate could be seen as more palatable in the House. 

House Minority Leader John Boehner said Tuesday that it's time to hit the reset button in light of the problems on the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

"It's time to scrap this bill. Let's start over in a bipartisan way," he said. 

Despite Boyd's skepticism, he said he wasn't ready to throw in the towel on health care reform. 

"Anything can happen," he said. "This place is known for miracles."

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said he doesn't mind waiting a week to try and reach a consensus on the health care bill.

"If we can do it next week without consensus or wait a week and do it with consensus, I'd rather wait a week," he told FOX News.

Many conservative Democrats on the committee are already reeling from criticism they've heard for voting for a landmark climate and energy bill in June. Many of those lawmakers are reluctant to take a tough vote again.

For days, Obama has hammered his desire for a bill this summer during public appearances and private meetings. He plans to hold a prime-time press conference Wednesday. 

"I want this done now. If there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town," Obama said in an interview with PBS. But he suggested that he'd be willing to put off his deadline slightly for the sake of passing a bill. 

Click here for more FOXNews.com coverage on health care reform. 

FOX News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

FOX NEWS FIRST NEWSLETTER

Daily must-read stories from the biggest name in politics

Subscribe Get the full text emailed to you daily