August 1, 2009


When I lose patience with the pace of healthcare reform, I remind myself exactly how much detail work is involved. (Via MSNBC: Above, House Energy and Commerce Committee Special Assistant Mitch Smiley, center, thumbs through boxes of amendments to the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, on Friday.) So stay patient and keep calling, we're getting closer all the time. All three major committees have finished their version and will vote in September:

Reporting from Washington -- President Obama's ambitious plan to overhaul the nation's healthcare system got a major boost when a pivotal House committee passed a compromise bill Friday night, clearing the way for a floor vote this fall.

The bill was approved 31 to 28, with five Democrats and all of the Republicans on the energy and commerce committee voting against it. Despite the defections, enough liberal and conservative Democrats were able to come together to break the deadlock that had stalled the bill for weeks.

"We are a diverse caucus with many points of view," said committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). "We've agreed we need to pull together."

To reach agreement, Waxman earlier this week had accepted conservative lawmakers' demands to limit the bill's price tag to $1 trillion over 10 years, exempt more small businesses from the employer-provided insurance mandate, and reduce the number of low-income people who would qualify for subsidized coverage.

But those changes provoked a backlash among liberals. To win them back, Waxman crafted a compromise that would restore low-income subsidies. The committee also added a major provision that would limit the premium increases that insurers could impose, and another that would let the government negotiate pharmaceutical prices under Medicare's prescription drug program -- a goal long sought by liberals as a way to reduce drug costs. (The idea was bitterly opposed by Republicans when the program was established in 2003, as critics questioned whether the government would secure discounts.)

The bill is designed to provide insurance for the 46 million people in the U.S. who now go without it; to curb healthcare costs; and to make it harder for companies to deny coverage or increase premiums.

"We have a historic opportunity to transform our healthcare system," Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a leader of the panel's conservative faction, said ahead of the vote.

But Republicans said that despite changes made to address conservative Democrats' concerns, the legislation remained a costly, intrusive expansion of government power over medical care. Conservatives did little more than "pick the color of the lipstick on this pig," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

The vote came just as House members prepared to leave town for a monthlong recess.

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