History in House Energy & Commerce…

The past week has been a roller coaster for health care reform… but it ended on a great note.

The Senate Finance Committee, after suggesting progress in its “bipartisan” negotiations, admitted it was not ready to pass out a bill… or even produce one before the August recess. The other committee of jurisdiction, the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee, had passed out its part of health reform two weeks ago. Senator Max Baucus put a deadline of September 15th for action by his Senate Finance Committee.

In the House of Representatives, two or three committees had done their work, but the remaining committee, Energy and Commerce, was being held up by conservative “Blue Dog” members. Negotiations broke down, were rejoined, and went back-and-forth in the past week.

In the last 48 hours, a deal was had between Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and four of the committee “Blue Dogs.” One of the concessions was time, having a committee vote this week but postponing a full floor vote until after the August recess. The substantive changes were more concerning, including reducing the subsidies to make health coverage affordable for low- and moderate-income consumers.

The Progressive Caucus, chaired by California Representative Lynn Woolsey pushed back, especially against changes in the public health insurance option and the affordability subsidies. They finally agreed to support the bill in negotiations when they worked to find other savings to restore some of those affordability subsidies. (More about the substance of the bill and amendments later.)

This evening, the House Energy and Commerce Committee did, in fact, pass the bill H.R. 3200 out of the committee, 31-28, with all but five Democrats voting for the measure. Those conservative “Blue Dogs” joined Republicans who were united in opposition.

For Californian Representatives who made up a sizable portion of the Committee, the vote was exactly party line. California Democrats, including New Democrats and Blue Dogs, voted for the measure: Henry Waxman, Lois Capps, Doris Matsui, Anna Eshoo, Jane Harman, Jerry McNerney. The two California Republicans voted against, including George Radanovich and even Mary Bono Mack, who occasionally has broken with Republicans on certain votes.

It was noted that the passage of the bill in this committee was historic–this committee, nor this country, had not reached this point in health reform in the early 1990s. And the passage does provide some much-needed momentum going into August recess. Health reform has passed four of five committees. This bill will be available for a full House floor vote right after the break in September.

There’s a lot more work to do, but we should savor important steps in the process.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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