Health Care Talks Stall Among House Democrats, Timetable Further in Doubt

The Democratic Party is at war with itself, trying to pump out a deal on health care reform without fracturing on the floor of Congress. 

Negotiations broke down Friday afternoon, at least temporarily, between party leaders and the group of fiscally conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs, who are trying to win concessions on the health care package. 

"It pretty much fell apart this afternoon," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., part of the Blue Dog Coalition. 

"I've been lied to. I've not had legitimate negotiations," Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., another Blue Dog, said after talks hit a wall between his group and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The intra-party drama almost certainly means Democratic leaders have to readjust their timetable for reaching a deal or risk completely alienating a key faction of the party. 

It's unclear which path they will take. 

The committee is the only House panel yet to vote on the health care bill. With committee members unable to reach a deal, party leaders have floated the potentially destructive option of bypassing that panel and taking the bill straight to the floor of the House. 

"I won't allow them to turn over control of the committee to the Republicans," Waxman said, threatening to bypass the committee process. 

"I don't see what alternative we have," Waxman said of talks that have raged for days with the Blue Dogs. "This can't be an interminable discussion." 

Waxman said he hopes it doesn't come to that, and later in the afternoon he publicly apologized to Ross. Standing together, Ross and Waxman said all options are back on the table and they still hope to reach a deal next week. 

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushes for a floor vote before the August recess, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said he'd rather wait until there's agreement before forcing a vote. 

"If we had the votes to pass this bill on Monday without consensus, but (could) wait to pass it with consensus the next Monday, I'd advocate waiting," he said. 

And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced Friday afternoon that it "may not be possible" to pass a bill before recess and that members might have to stay into the break. He later told reporters that Democrats made "real progress" in reaching consensus on a prior disagreement over Medicare rates. 

But even floating the option of steering around the Energy and Commerce Committee drew the ire of the Blue Dogs who are already catching heat from rank-and-file Democrats in the liberal wing of the party. 

"That statement was not very helpful at all," Ross said Friday afternoon before making amends with Waxman. "If my tone is a bit harsher now, it's a direct result of that statement because we're Democrats and we're every bit as much a Democrat as Chairman Waxman or any member of this Democratic caucus. 

"We're actually trying to save the bill and we're trying to save our party and that type of rhetoric is not helpful," Ross said. 

The radical move to bypass the committee would mean Waxman would finish writing the bill in private and merge it with the two bills that have already passed out of the committee in the chamber before bringing it to the floor. 

But such a move wouldn't necessarily serve Democratic leadership any good. 

Nearly all 52 Blue Dogs are expected to vote against the health bill if it hits the House floor in its current form. That spells doom for the measure when coupled with unanimous Republican opposition. 

"I predict that if that happens, that the bill will fail," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said. "I don't believe the Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Blue Dog Democrats and the institutional Democrats in the House would vote to bypass the committee of primary jurisdiction." 

Pelosi, though, has said she's "confident" she has the votes. 

Even if the bill passes next week, it will sit until after the August recess. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said the Senate would not vote on the bill until after the break, and that he would instead try to push for a bill out of the Senate Finance Committee in the next couple weeks. 

The bill already passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on a straight, party-line vote, but the Finance Committee is unique in that it is trying to forge a bipartisan measure. 

That process is moving slowly. Congressional sources said President Obama's meeting Friday with Reid and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., yielded no breakthroughs. 

FOX News' Chad Pergram and Carl Cameron contributed to this report.