ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:
Democratic leaders in Congress are increasingly optimistic that breakthroughs in negotiations with conservatives inside their caucus will allow health care reform to get back on track before the August recess.
But having a bill pass the relevant committees is quite a bit different than finding a final product that both liberals and conservatives can support.
On ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” today, House Majority Whip James Clyburn predicted that the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be able to pass a bill before the House begins its five-week recess at the end of this week.
Yet he said he could not guarantee that the concessions negotiated into that bill by conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats would survive in a final product.
“We have absolutely no idea,” Clyburn, D-S.C., told me and ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “Remember this bill has to be squared with the product of two other committees. The Ways and Means Committee finished their markup a couple of weeks ago. Then the Education and Labor Committee has finished its markup. We have three different tracks running in the House. Now, when the Energy and Commerce Committee finishes, we’ll try to meld these three documents into one, and what that final document will be is certainly not going to be exactly what comes out of the Energy Commerce. People understand that.”
As the chief vote-counter in the House, Clyburn has to balance a wide range of viewpoints inside the Democratic caucus -- including Blue Dogs who have worked to hold down the cost and minimize the impact on businesses, and liberals who are insisting on a robust “public option” to compete with private insurers.
“I don’t think that anyone can guarantee what the final document is going to be,” Clyburn continued. “The fact of the matter is when you’re doing legislation, you’ve got to take into account the districts that are being represented by Blue Dogs. But look: The Blue Dogs -- we have some Congressional Black Caucus members, some Hispanic members, and their concerns have to be dealt with, too.”
“So this whole thing about the one group getting all of what it wants to the expense of the other group –- that’s not the way things work,” Clyburn said. “Things work with us trying to find common ground, trying to find a happy medium. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. So if you think any kind of deal will be exactly like you wanted it when it gets lined up with the other two committees -– that just ain’t the way the world works.”
Still, Clyburn sounded an optimistic note about the prospects of keeping the process moving. He said he believes the slide in support for President Obama’s health care plans will begin to move in the other direction when and if Democrats rally around a single product.
“I think the numbers go up when you get a bill,” Clyburn said. “The problem is when you’ve got three different committees doing three different things in the House. You’ve got the Senate with two different committees, doing two different things – that’s five things out there. People are confused. They don’t [know] exactly what the deal is. If you get these three committees working in concert with each other, we go out there next month with this bill coming out of all three committees, we’ve then got one bill to go out to the public that says, ‘This is what the Democrats are offering you. We’re offering you a change from your current situation.’ ”
Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, also said he’s looking forward to this evening’s beer diplomacy at the White House.
“I came to the Congress after spending 18 years in South Carolina dealing with these kinds of issues on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “And I can tell you when people get together and stop talking past each other [and] start listening to each other, I think you get a much better result. So I think the president was right to have this little session today, because maybe the rest of us can look in on that little table that they’ll be sitting at and get a much better feel for how we ought to be treating each other as we go forward.”
Click HERE to see the full interview with Rep. James Clyburn.
Also today, we chatted with Paul Brathwaite, a Democratic strategist with the Podesta Group, about the Democrats’ troubles in passing a health care bill.
He also helped us preview tonight’s meeting at the White House -- the Audacity of Hops.
Click HERE to see the interview with Paul Brathwaite.