Blue Dog Democrat Sees Victory in Health Reform Debate

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 5:56 PM

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark), the conservative Democrat who with a handful of colleagues brought President Obama's health care plan to a dead halt in the House, said Wednesday that the most important concession the Blue Dog Democrats won with their effort was time.

"We were able to reach an agreement that ensures that every member of Congress will have the entire month of August and the first week in September to read the bill and to visit with their constituents about it," Ross said minutes after the House leadership announced a deal.

Ross said the agreement was "absolutely" contingent on not having a vote before the August recess, which starts Friday, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had hoped to do. "Somewhere along the way, people started imposing this artificial deadline of getting it done by August 1. . The American people are ready for us to slow down and to actually take the time to think about what we are voting on, to read what we are voting on," he said.

Ross and about 40 other Democrats from the conservative Blue Dog Coalition had written Pelosi months ago asking to be part of the process of drafting the omnibus reform bill, but say they were not consulted. As the complex bill made its way through various House committees, the seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee -- led by Ross -- made it clear that they would not support the bill in its initial form, thereby stalling the process.

Ross describes two weeks of intense negotiations eight hours a day that "quite frankly have been just a great big blur." He gives White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former House member, credit for facilitating negotiations between two opposing ideological camps, the Blue Dogs on the one hand, and Pelosi and Energy Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on the other.

Ross listed his group's major accomplishments as cutting $100 billion in costs from he plan and devising a public option -- or government-run insurance plan -- "that will truly be just that, an option."

"It will not be mandated on anyone; it will simply give consumers more choices," he said.

Another significant breakthrough, he said, was reducing the employer mandate requirements to provide health care to employees. "Originally, if you are a small business and you had a payroll over $100,000, you were going to be mandated to provide health insurance to your employers. We were able to increase that to an annual payroll of $500,000," he said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company