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Health Care Talks to Continue Wednesday in House

Updated: 9:56 p.m.

House Democratic leaders, Blue Dogs, White House aides and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) say they made progress toward a deal on health care Tuesday but will continue negotiating Wednesday as they make a final push to rescue a deal before adjourning for the August recess.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) exited the meeting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office saying progress was being made but talks would resume Wednesday.

“We’re going to continue to talk,— he said around 9 p.m. “I think everybody wants to get a little shuteye.—

Twenty minutes later, Pelosi left, only to declare that progress was being made.

A similar statement declaring progress came from Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the chairman of the Blue Dog health care task force. “There is no agreement. … We’re going to get back at it again in the morning,— he said.

The negotiations began about 2:15 p.m., breaking only for votes on the House floor. The talks included White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and seven Blue Dogs.

Ross said earlier in the evening that both sides had offered new proposals after Waxman made the fiscally conservative bloc an offer Monday night. Seven of the eight Blue Dogs on Waxman’s panel, including Ross, have withheld their support for a measure over issues such as the price tag and regional disparities.

“I would like to think that we’re making progress,— he said. “We’re still talking. We have both put items on the table and we’re discussing them.—

Ross, Waxman, Emanuel and others in the meeting refused to discuss specifics.

But even if the committee can reach an agreement that lets panel members resume a markup on the bill, House leaders gave clear indications Tuesday that they do not expect a floor vote before going home for the recess. The House was slated to adjourn on Friday.

According to GOP aides, Pelosi’s staff had already informed the minority party that the chamber would not vote on the issue before the break, but that claim was strenuously denied by Pelosi’s staff and others in leadership. But they were clearly setting the stage for doing just that.

“You understand that if we pass something out of committee this week, we’ve got to spend the month of August putting together the three bills,— Hoyer said earlier in the day. “There’s going to be a lot of work involved, a lot of scoring that needs to be done on that.—

Ross said there are now 12 issues in the negotiations and played down the idea that they would reach a quick breakthrough overnight. “Your guess is as good as mine,— he said.

But Ross signaled a willingness to compromise when asked if Blue Dogs needed concessions on each item on their list. “The legislative process is always about give and take,— he said.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), a Blue Dog co-chairman, said the group would continue to meet “until I either get hungry or sleepy or want a drink.—

Two House committees already have approved versions of the measure, but progress ran aground in the Energy and Commerce Committee amid the Blue Dog opposition.

Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), a key ally of Pelosi, backed the idea of going home in August and giving the committees ample time to sort out the differences in their bills. “It will take some time, and you also have to have that [Congressional Budget Office] score,— Miller said.

Congressional Progressive Caucus members also have dropped their demands that the House vote on a bill before recess, instead hoping to get a measure ironed out that they can sell over the break.

“We need to have a bill before recess,— said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, after a meeting with Pelosi. Pelosi reiterated her support of a strong public insurance option, the main demand of liberals, Woolsey said. The Members also talked during the meeting about ways to move the bill forward if the Energy and Commerce Committee is unable to reach agreement with the Blue Dogs, Woolsey said, including the possibility of bypassing the Energy and Commerce panel and sending a bill directly to the floor.

“It’s not going to be sitting in committee in September,— Woolsey said.

Miller blasted legislation that appears to be emerging from the Senate Finance Committee with no public insurance option or an employer mandate to provide insurance: “I don’t think that adds up to health care reform. It doesn’t add up to insurance reform. It doesn’t add up to keeping costs down. I don’t know what the hell that adds up to.—

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health chairman, said they would keep meeting with the Blue Dogs until they have a deal and are still hopeful of going to a markup.

But some Blue Dogs not on the panel doubt that will happen.

“I think they need to start over,— said Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a senior Blue Dog member. “It can’t be fixed.—

Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.), another Democrat on Energy and Commerce opposing the bill, said he has been urging going home without a vote for more than a week. He said talk that the Senate Finance Committee may shelve a public insurance plan and an employer mandate only adds to that reasoning.

“The Senate’s on a completely different agenda,— Stupak said. “It’s time for the House and Senate to get together.—

Stupak said Members don’t want to vote for a bill that has no chance of becoming law.

“I’ve been here long enough. You do a bill and you get a plank sawed off behind you,— he said. “That’s what Members do not want.—

Stupak said they still are far apart on the particulars of the legislation.

“We have no bill,— he said.

Jay Heflin of CongressNow contributed to this report.

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