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Liberal and Conservative Democrats Brawl Over Contents of Health Reform Bill

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, grew frustrated in his negotiations, and Friday morning, he told the Blue Dogs that their prior conditions were off the table. He accused the conservative coalition of threatening to vote with the GOP members of the committee and derail the legislation, and he suggested that Democrats should simply bypass his committee and hold a vote on health care on the House floor, even though that risked losing the votes of many of the 52 Blue Dogs.

The coalition was furious. Ross (D-Ark.), the leader of the Blue Dogs on Waxman's committee, declared that he was pulling out of his week-long negotiations with Waxman, while another conservative Democrat, Charlie Melancon (D-La.), said, "I feel like I've been lied to."

Lawmakers stormed out of the meeting, lobbing charges at one another.

Hours later the committee reconvened and Waxman apologized to Ross in front of a group of reporters. Shaking hands, the pair said they would continue their negotiations next week.

"Everything that was off the table a couple hours ago is now back on the table," Ross said.

The impasse with the Blue Dogs has remained despite an intense lobbying effort from Waxman, House Democratic leaders and White House officials, including an hour-long talk earlier this week with Obama.

Obama attempted Friday to revive momentum in the Senate by meeting with Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), one of the key figures in writing a Senate bill. But his goal of getting bills through both houses of Congress before the recess still appeared impossible to meet.

Proponents and opponents of Obama's health proposals say they plan intense ad campaigns once Congress recesses, which is likely to ignite the public relations battle over the bill that the president had hoped to avoid by pushing it quickly through Congress.

The White House has already put its political machine in motion, launching ads Thursday through the Democratic National Committee that argue, "Some leading Republicans, playing politics, have vowed to kill reform." Organizing for America, the group set up within the DNC to manage the massive 13-million person e-mail list built up during Obama's presidential campaign, is also planning to ramp up its advocacy of health-care reform, according to administration officials.

Meanwhile, one group in opposition, Americans for Prosperity, is spending more than $1 million on a national cable television buy this week that castigates the Canadian-style health care that it claims the president's plan would institute. And the Republican National Committee started radio ads Friday in 33 states, casting the Democratic health care plans as a "dangerous experiment."

Staff writer Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.

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