Waiting for the Blue Dogs

In the House, healthcare reform hinges on a group of conservative Democrats

By Alex Koppelman
Published July 28, 2009 5:15PM (EDT)

If House Democrats ever want to pass their version of healthcare reform legislation, they'll have to overcome two obstacles.

The first is opposition from Republicans -- and it's not, frankly, that big of a deal. House Republicans have stood united against big legislation this year, and it hasn't mattered much when it came to final passage.

But the second, opposition from fellow Democrats, really will matter. Without the votes of moderate and conservative Democrats, especially those in the Blue Dog coalition, the reform bill simply can't pass. So far, it's been a struggle to get the Blue Dogs to sign on.

The bill has been bottled up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee because of Blue Dog opposition, so on Monday night, committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., offered a compromise. The committee's Blue Dogs met Tuesday morning to go over the deal, which hasn't yet been made public.

"I think what the chairman has done has agreed to a lot of our proposals in a hybrid fashion," Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., a co-chair of the Blue Dogs who sits on the committee said, according to The Hill. "In other words, he’s kind of watered them down. And we’ve got to make a determination whether or not we’re going to accept that watered-down proposal or make a counter-proposal.”

Hill also said of the compromise, "We're not there yet," indicating that this probably isn't the magic bullet that will get the deal done. Another Blue Dog, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said, "The bottom line of the Blue Dogs has not been met yet."

The opposition from within the Democratic Party means that it'll be difficult for the House leadership to meet its goal of having a vote on the floor before Congress goes into recess for five weeks on Friday, and one Blue Dog, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., says he believes the bill will have to wait until after Labor Day.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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