Pelosi Hits Throttle on Health Care Bill Despite Democrats' Concerns

Published July 24, 2009


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set the legislative throttle at full-speed-ahead as she plans to bring health care reform to a floor vote by the August recess, a move that could inflame tensions in the party and imperil the bill's passage since fiscally conservative Democrats say they're still not satisfied. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday announced that the Senate would wait until after recess to bring the bill to a vote, and President Obama said it was "OK" to miss his deadline so long as lawmakers are working in earnest to reach a compromise. 

Reid's announcement led some members of the House to wonder why Pelosi feels it's necessary to hold to a deadline that's already been broken. 

Multiple sources with the Blue Dog Coalition, the group of fiscally conservative Democrats who have been holding up the bill in the only House committee yet to vote on it, said Friday they still don't have a deal -- despite Pelosi's insistence that she's got the votes. 

"We don't have a deal yet," a senior Blue Dog source said. "Negotiations continue," said another. A third said no details of a pact have been worked out. Talks seemed to break down Friday afternoon. 

Democratic leaders are considering bypassing the House Energy and Commerce Committee, merging the bills that have passed out of two other House committees and bringing that to the floor. This would avert the trouble of granting concessions to the Blue Dogs, who hold several seats on the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

But that could lead to a party revolt and wouldn't necessarily help the bill pass. The Blue Dog Coalition has 52 members, and a senior Blue Dog on Thursday predicted that nearly all, if not all, of the members would vote against a bill in its present form. 

Pelosi would need 39 Blue Dogs to vote for a bill just to achieve a 217-217 vote split (one House seat is open, pending a special election) -- if all Republicans voted against. 

And 39 could be a hard number to achieve, given the discontent in the coalition. 

"We don't feel like we've been dealt with honestly," the member said. 

A senior House leadership source said Friday that they remain committed to going through the regular committee process. 

But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told NPR that Pelosi has told her caucus that she intends to move forward with a vote next week and is "working toward that goal." 

Amid the intra-party struggle, Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein penned a column this week calling for Pelosi's ouster. 

He told FOX News that on issue after issue, the speaker has hurt the president's efforts to set a new post-partisan tone in Congress. 

The $787 billion stimulus, he said, was "too focused on paying Democratic constituencies and not enough on creating jobs." 

The cap-and-trade climate bill that recently passed out of the House and is now in the Senate is a "Frankenstein monster." 

The final stake, he said, is her guidance of a House health care bill that the Congressional Budget Office says will not control costs. 

"That to me is a pretty strong record that she is not capable of moving his agenda," said Gerstein, who also cited a poll this week showing 24 percent of people trust Pelosi. 

A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll released Thursday showed 29 percent view her favorably. 

But in an interview with The Washington Post, Pelosi said she's "very, very optimistic" about the package. 

"This is typical of when you come to the end of a bill where the finer points are addressed and the consensus is built," she said. 

She said the "plan" is to vote before recess and said she wouldn't necessarily wait until the Senate Finance Committee -- the last Senate committee to vote on the bill -- completes its version. 

Three committees have approved the bill, with two left to go. 

"We don't know the rest of the Senate proposal, and we're eager to see that, but the House sets the pace at ground zero a good deal of the time, "but we are respectful of what the Senate will do," she said. 

FOX News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.