House Democrats Expect to Present Health Care Bill Next Week

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) says Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) intends to present a unified, redrafted health care reform bill next week.

The new bill would meld together parts of legislation written and approved in July by the House Education, Ways and Means and Energy & Commerce Committees. But Larson cautioned against people reading this as the last step in a long health care journey for the House.

“That won’t be the final answer,” Larson said. “This is the refining process.”

There is a lot of back-and-forth between varying wings of the Democratic caucus. The most-liberal factions are pushing for a “public option.” That’s a component of the plan that would allow some persons to purchase health care insurance from the federal government. Meantime, the most-conservative Democratic voices are bucking that idea. They would prefer limiting the scope of the health care reform plan.

The lengthy, behind-the-scenes negotiations have left many scratching their heads as to how Pelosi secures the necessary votes to pass the bill without alienating at least one branch of her caucus.

“You should be the head of the caucus,” Larson exclaimed when asked if he thought the status of the legislation was hard to track. “I can’t quite get a feel for where we’re going to go. Every day reveals a new wrinkle or nuance.”

Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) have recently underscored their support for government-operated insurance. But that’s seemed to create consternation among House “Blue Dogs,” the coalition of the most-moderate and conservative Democrats in the House.

“There was quite a bit of dismay,” said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) about reaction from the Blue Dogs to the apparent public option push. “We sort of feel like we’re getting mixed messages.”

Herseth Sandlin, one of the Blue Dog leaders, said she didn’t think Pelosi and Hoyer had the votes to pass a health care reform package without the help of moderate Democrats.

“If the leadership feels they have the votes for H.R. 3200 (the health care reform bill), then they don’t need to negotiate (with us) and bring this to a vote,” Herseth Sandlin said. “Right now I don’t think they have the votes to pass H.R. 3200.”

Questions have also swirled about whether the House would wait for the Senate Finance Committee to write its health care bill this week. Larson conceded that House Democrats were “taking a look at what the Senate is doing.” But he made it clear that House action is not contingent on the Senate.

“Honestly , we don’t worry about the Senate,” Larson said. “And God bless them.”