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Blue Dogs Vs. Waxman -- Uh Oh?

This sounds like a problem:

House healthcare negotiations dissolved in acrimony on Friday, with Blue Dog Democrats saying they were “lied” to by their Democratic leaders.

The seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee stormed out of a Friday meeting with their committee chairman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), saying Waxman had been negotiating in bad faith over a number of provisions Blue Dogs demanded be changed in the stalled healthcare bill.“I’ve been lied to,” Blue Dog Coalition Co-Chairman Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said on Friday. “We have not had legitimate negotiations.

“Mr. Waxman has decided to sever discussions with the Blue Dogs who are trying to make this bill work for America,” Melancon said.

Although those Blue Dogs were supposed to be headed back into another meeting of the Energy and Commerce Democrats, their anger was visible.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the only hope for passage of the bill in the House will be to go straight to the floor, an option leaders shied away from endorsing but said was an option.

But the Blue Dogs issued dire warnings to leaders contemplating that approach.

"Waxman simply does not have votes in committee and process should not be bypassed to bring the bill straight to floor,” Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the lead Blue Dog negotiator, said on Friday. “We are trying to save this bill and trying to save this party.”

Melancon said there would be 40-45 “solid no” votes from the 52-strong Blue Dogs, among other problems throughout the caucus.

“If they try to bring it to the floor, I think they’ll find out they have more problems than the Blue Dogs.”

A leadership aide said no decisions have been made on how to proceed.

But they can just get back together and work it out, right? Not necessarily:

“It’s my understanding that will be the last meeting we have,” Ross said. 

Well, that's troubling.

Here's the basic dynamic. The Democrats want the House to pass a liberal bill, so that whatever gets passed out of the Senate can get nudged to the left. But the Blue Dogs don't want to have to vote for a more liberal bill than what gets signed into law. So there's a conflict between their interests and the party's interest.

The blue dogs have focused their muscle on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where they have enough strength to bottle up the bill. But the House is considering letting the bill go straight to the floor, bypassing the Energy and Commerce Committee. I have no substantive problem with that. But will it create a huge blowup with the Blue Dogs? Enough of one to sink the bill? I have no idea. Waxman is a famously skilled legislator so I doubt he'd make such a blunder. On the other hand, this talk about being lied to is pretty serious.

--Jonathan Chait

[Cross-posted from The Plank]