A House health subcommittee largely opposed to an administration hospital cost control plan passed the buck on the issue yesterday to its parent body, the House Commerce Committee.
An 8-to-4 vote to table, which usually means kill, was a compromise to avoid what could have become long weeks of debate.
The action meant that the next battleground will probably be the Commerce Committee, followed by a vote on the House floor, no matter what Commerce does.
The floor vote will come partly because the House Ways and Means Committee has already passed its version of the plan, and partly because Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) has pledged to get it to the floor one way or another.
In the Senate, too, the plan is expected to see a floor battle this session, despite its defeat in July by the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate Human Resources Committee passed it, and Finance Committee member Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) promised to lead a floor fight for it.
As it came from the White House, the administration plan would put federal spending controls in effect if covered hospitals -- there are many exemptions -- fail to hold their annual spending increase to 10.9 percent. The more permissive Ways and Means version would make the figure 11.6 percent.
House Commerce health subcommittee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) conceded yesterday that he lacked the votes to pass the plan, though he called it the only true antiinflation bill this Congress can act on.
Some subcommittee Democrats have joined Republicans in condemning the plan as a misguided proposal for excessive federal regulation.
But Waxman said House Commerce Chairman Harley Staggers (D-W.Va.) wants to pass it, and "We may have the votes there, though it will be close."
The latest move on another health issue, national health insurance, was made yesterday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) with seven Senate colleagues, and Waxman, with 59 colleagues. They introduced the formal version of the "health care for all Americans" bill Kennedy unveiled in May.
The White House is expected to follow shortly with the legislative version of its more limited health insurance plan.