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House Democrat On Progress Of Health Negotiations: ‘There’s No Agreement. No Deal On Anything. Nothing.’

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"House Democrat On Progress Of Health Negotiations: ‘There’s No Agreement. No Deal On Anything. Nothing.’"

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with President ObamaEarly reports suggested that the ping-pong conference could produce a final health care bill before the President delivered the State of the Union address and many insiders suggested that the House should simply pass the Senate health care bill and be done with it. Even Obama seemed to assume that “the House will simply go along with the Senate bill out of political necessity.”

But now, House negotiators are suggesting that the Senate’s excise tax, state-based exchanges, poor affordability standards and preservation of insurers’ anti-trust exemption may not have enough votes to pass the House. After all, the House can only afford to lose two Democratic votes to still pass the bill:

- Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY): “Normally you’re just dealing with the Senate and they talk about 60 votes and you listen to them and cave in, but this is entirely different,” he said. “I’m telling you that never has 218 been so important to me in the House.”

- Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY): “We keep hearing them squeal like pigs in the Senate that they had a tough time getting to 60,” Weiner said. “Well, it wasn’t particularly a picnic for us to get to 218. Generally speaking, the Senate kabuki dance has lost its magic on those of us in the House.”

- Rep. Pete Defazio (D-OR): “They only got two votes to spare in the House. I think this will be a tougher negotiation than they think.”

- Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO): “In spite of the fact that the news media is proclaiming this bill approved, I’m not in a position, based on everybody I’ve spoken with to agree with them. …I think what comes out may be disapproved and then in 30 days, when they bring something else forth — because we’ve never been this close before — but it may take a ‘no’ vote in order to get people back on board.”

- Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT): “This is no walk in the park. This is bare-knuckled policy and politics to get this done.”

A “senior House Democrat” told Roll Call that “no progress has been made this week on any of the key sticking points in the House and Senate bills, despite steady meetings with union leaders and the White House.” “There’s no agreement. No deal on anything. Nothing,” the lawmaker said. In fact, during Tuesday Democratic Caucus, only one Democratic House member voiced support for the excise tax and one expressed a willingness to consider it. The House is not backing down — at least not publicly. In brief comments to reporters on Tuesday night, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) called a national exchange “essential to having a workable plan.” “How that is refined remains to be seen,” she said.

Fortunately, the administration has reportedly embraced the idea of increasing the threshold on the excise tax, improving the affordability measures and establishing a national health insurance exchange. But securing a national exchange and revoking insurers’ anti-trust exemption (something Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) said he opposes) would require some serious presidential arm twisting and more time. Obama has failed to lobby for popular progressive initiatives in the past and has “forcefully communicated” his desire to pass a final health care reform bill in time for the State of the Union address. Whether or not he decides to seriously fight for these issues now, may determine the fate of health care reform. As Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told The Hill’s Jeffrey Young, “I’m sorry if getting it right delays the State of the Union.”

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