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Waxman Convenes Emergency Meeting to Save Health Bill

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) convened an emergency meeting of the Democrats on his panel Friday afternoon to try to revive the health care reform bill after his talks with conservative Blue Dog Democrats broke down.A visibly angry Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the Blue Dog health care task force chairman, said Waxman reneged on deals the two sides had previously agreed on: a powerful independent Medicare commission proposed by President Barack Obama that would control costs, and adopting Senate language on a public insurance option that would require negotiated rates with providers rather than rates based on Medicare.“It pretty much fell apart this afternoon,— Ross said, adding that there were eight other concerns on the Blue Dog list that had yet to be addressed as well.Ross also said Waxman’s threats to bring the bill straight to the floor — and bypass a markup in Energy and Commerce — were not helpful.“We are actually trying to save the bill, and we are trying to save our party,— Ross said after the earlier Friday meeting between Blue Dogs and Waxman ended. He said then that he didn’t believe the two sides would meet again.“It’s my understanding that will be the last meeting we have,— Ross said.But Waxman said afterward that he still hopes to reach a deal and decided to hold an emergency meeting of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Democrats.“As far as I’m concerned, I want to continue talking and see if we can bring all the Democrats together,— Waxman said before he headed to the meeting. “We’ll do our best.— Still, Waxman reiterated his threat to take the bill straight to the floor if the Blue Dog Democrats continue their threats to vote for Republican amendments.Waxman also said that he still supports the independent commission idea, although he said that others in the Caucus feel like it’s not needed because a new plan has been developed to address Medicare costs. Waxman also said that with a new breakthrough reached with other Democrats on addressing regional disparities, it would be a problem to not tie the public insurance option in the plan to Medicare rates. Waxman said that while he and Ross had been working on another way to deal with that issue, he told Ross, “I couldn’t imagine selling it to the Democrats now that there has been this breakthrough.—Waxman said his panel needs to resume its markup next week or “acknowledge that the Democrats don’t control the committee anymore.— He said Blue Dogs “expressed some buyer’s remorse— about the Medicare advisory commission after health care providers protested. “But I’m happy to stick with it,— he said.The chairman called Ross’ comments “unfortunate— but said he wants to continue negotiations if possible. Ross later said after a Blue Dog meeting in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office that he hopes negotiations continue.“You never say never,— he said of prospects for reaching a deal before heading to the Democratic committee meeting. “We still want to be a constructive part of this process.—But Ross reiterated the Blue Dogs’ threat to oppose the current bill and said they would try to block a rule on the floor if leadership tries to bypass Energy and Commerce.“I’ve never seen them this fired up,— he said of his fellow Blue Dogs.Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), a Blue Dog co-chairman and Energy and Commerce member, said he had to walk out of the earlier meeting with Waxman “to keep from blowing up at him.—“I’ve been lied to,— Melancon said. “I’ve not had legitimate negotiations. … They’ve accused us of sabotaging health care. We are not. Our job as legislators are to try to perfect legislation. And this one needs a lot of perfecting.—Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), a senior Blue Dog who isn’t on the committee, said he hopes talks could be restarted.“Everybody needs to kind of take a deep breath and relax a little bit,— he said.Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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