Final House Panel Approves Health Reform Bill

WASHINGTON -- A key House panel approved its version of major health care reform package Friday night, setting the full House up for a debate on the legislation after its August recess.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which voted Friday, was the last of three panels to approve a health bill. The vote, 31-28, was made possible by a deal brokered earlier this week between Democratic leaders and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, though health reform legislation still is being held up in one Senate committee.

The Blue Dogs wanted to dial back a "public option" where the government offers health care for Americans. They also sought protections for small business owners and significant cost reductions.

"We have agreed we need to pull together," said Rep. Henry Waxman, the Democratic committee chairman who presided over hours of private negotiations and public committee meetings.

All but five Democrats on the committee voted for the plan. The other Democrats, Reps. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, Bart Stupak of Michigan, Rick Boucher of Virginia, Jim Matheson of Utah and John Barrow of Georgia joined all Republicans in opposing the legislation.

The vote was just one step in a lengthy legislative process that has already lagged the schedule set out by Obama. The progress in the House toward providing health care to 50 million uninsured Americans was not matched in the Senate where Republican and Democratic negotiators announced they needed additional time to produce an agreement.

Overall prospects for a health bill remain uncertain. Both chambers would have to pass legislation, then work out the differences between the two versions.

House Democrats intend to spend August selling the health care bill to the public. They hope the effort will enable them to call a vote on the measure before the whole House in September.

Republicans, on the other hand, intend to use August to gin up opposition to the plan.

Just before the final vote, both Democrats and Republicans stood to give a standing ovation to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., for whom the bill is named. Dingell is the most-senior member of the House, starting his career in the 1950s. Dingell's father preceded him in the House and worked on approving health care reform in the 1940s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.