Democrats' Deal With Blue Dogs on Healthcare is a Lose-Lose Situation

Politicians will get heat from all sides—in the hottest month of the year. That's just bad politics.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership over the U.S. House is in a rocky state.

Back in January, Pelosi backed an effort by fellow California Democrat Henry Waxman to oust Michigan's John Dingell from the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell, currently the House's most senior member, was thought by many on the party's left to be too close to the automakers located in his home state and would, therefore, be an impediment to what the Obama administration wanted to do to curb the production of greenhouse gases.

Waxman, a liberal's liberal from Los Angeles, is a well-known opponent of big business, a friend to the trial lawyers, and someone who was seen as far more sympathetic to the views of radical environmentalists who, like former Vice President Al Gore, regard the internal combustion engine as a threat "more deadly than that of any military enemy" to the continued survival of man.

Putting Waxman in the chair in place of Dingell was a big change—one that had a major impact on much of the important legislation the current Congress has taken up—including Obama's stimulus package, the "cap-and-trade" national energy tax, the Detroit bailout and, most recently, healthcare reform.

The problem for Pelosi is that unlike Dingell, who was and is an acknowledged master of the deal, Waxman, a lead sponsor of the healthcare reform package that has been stuck for days in his committee, just can't seem to get it done.

Originally it was a rebellion by the largely rural "blue dog" Democrats on Waxman's committee that held up the bill. Their complaint: The bill was too expensive and there wasn't enough money in it for their districts. And so they held things up, long enough to prevent a vote before the start of the August recess, wrecking President Obama's timetable.

Now, after days of negotiations with Waxman, the blue dogs have made a deal—or at least a deal to get a deal that, among other things, promises no vote on healthcare reform before Congress comes back in September. Which means members on both sides of the aisle get to spend the year's hottest month back home, getting heat from their constituents, either for the lack of progress on reform or because reform is moving forward at all.

In politics, that's called a "lose-lose" situation; and it's a politician's least favorite place to be.

Getting back to Waxman, the deal to get a deal he struck with the blue dogs, rather than clearing the way for the tri-committee bill to get out of his committee, is raising hackles inside the Democratic Caucus, especially among Pelosi's strongest supporters. As Politico reported Thursday, "Liberals, Hispanics and African-American members—(Speaker) Pelosi's most loyal base of support—are feeling betrayed after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman reached an agreement with four of seven Blue Dogs on his committee who had been bottling up the bill over concerns about cost." 

"Waxman made a deal that is unacceptable," said New York liberal Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, one of about 10 progressives who met repeatedly with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, on Wednesday. "We signed a pledge to reject any plan that doesn't include a robust public option, and this plan doesn't have a robust public option," he added. 

Whether the differences that remain between the leadership and the blue dogs can be resolved and whether that resolution will be acceptable to the House Democratic Caucus remains to be seen. One thing that seems clear is that Waxman appears to have made a mess of the whole business, probably not enough to cause him to lose his chairmanship but enough to give Speaker Pelosi a big headache and a few sleepless nights.

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