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Energy and Commerce Gives Its Blessing to Health Bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 31-28 to pass the health care reform bill late Friday, ending a contentious marathon markup and sending the bill to the House floor for a vote after the August recess.The vote came after standing ovations for Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (D-Mich.), a longtime advocate for universal health care, and Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who navigated weeks of difficult negotiations with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats and liberals. The key amendment backed by the Blue Dogs passed on a 33-26 vote, slicing $100 billion from the $1.6 trillion bill. That amendment also requires negotiated reimbursement rates under a new public insurance option and increases the exemption for small businesses from a new insurance mandate from $250,000 to $500,000 in payroll. It also sliced subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans and forces states to pick up more of the tab for Medicaid beginning in 2015.As part of the deal negotiated by Waxman, liberal Members added amendments allowing direct negotiations to lower drug prices under Medicare, include a drug formulary for the new public insurance option and restrict the ability of insurance companies to raise premiums faster than medical inflation under the new national insurance exchange.Savings realized from those amendments would help restore the subsidies for low- and middle-income people.Seven committee members also said they had received a commitment from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to have an up-or-down vote on the House floor for a single-payer insurance option — the choice preferred by many liberals.Republicans ripped the Blue Dog compromise as a minor change that failed to significantly rein in the legislation. “You allowed the Blue Dogs in, and you let them choose the color of the lipstick on this pig,— Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said.But Democrats said they had managed to come to a compromise.“Congress is capable of bridging our differences to finally make health care reform a reality,— said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a member of the Progressive Caucus who helped broker the deal.

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