Progress on Capitol Hill: The Play-by-Play on Health Care

What happens today. What happens tomorrow. Whether it happens at all.

ByABC News
July 29, 2009, 11:40 AM

July 29, 2009— -- House Democrats appear to have made a breakthrough on a health care reform bill today by resolving differences within their own party, keeping President Barack Obama's hope alive for substantial progress before lawmakers take their summer break.

Here's a rundown on what's really happening in Washington, when Americans can expect movement on health care legislation and whether reform will actually happen this year.

Today in the House, House Democratic leadership struck a deal with some moderate Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which will now move forward with a mark-up of a health care bill this afternoon.

The president acknowledged members of both the Senate and the House for their hard work on health reform, and gave a special shout-out to the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

"I'm especially grateful that so many members, including some Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee, are working so hard to find common ground," Obama said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "Those efforts are extraordinarily constructive in strengthening this legislation and bringing down its cost."

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., the leader of the Blue Dog Democrats, who have been blocking progress on the bill, said an agreement has been reached that addresses their concerns, including cutting the cost of the bill, protecting small businesses and making sure a public option is truly optional and will compete on a level playing field with private plans.

"We believe every member of Congress should have the opportunity to not only read the bill, but spend the month of August visiting with their constituents about it," Ross told reporters. "I am confident that we're going to get health care reform done this year, but let's not rush it. That's what the American people are telling us, and that's what we've been successful in accomplishing."

But, George Stephanopoulos told Elizabeth Vargas on "World News" Wednesday that the timing may still be an issue.

"I heard from key negotiators in both the House and the Senate side who said, 'Don't be surprised if we don't finish this until Christmas,'" said Stephanopoulos.

While a deal has been struck with seven moderate Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the rest of the Blue Dogs are withholding judgment.

"Many Blue Dogs remain concerned with various aspects of the bill draft," Blue Dog co-chair Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., said in a statement released late today. "The 52-member Blue Dog Coalition has not taken a group position on the draft health care legislation that is working through the committee process. Today's announcement signifies that the committee process is moving forward. The committee will work its will, but the broader coalition has not ratified any agreements related to the draft legislation."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was optimstic that the Energy and Commerce Committee will finish work on the legislation this week, but getting it to the House floor is another story.

"It's obvious that we're not going to have any bill on the floor this week, and the probability is we won't have a bill on the floor… until September. We're still talking about that," said Hoyer

That's an unwelcome reminder of the missed deadline initially put forth by the president.

But the progress made among House Democrats today is good news for Obama and Democratic lawmakers eager to head into the congressional August recess with at least a hint of momentum.

During a town hall meeting in Raleigh, N.C., to address health care reform, the president today said that in the "best-case scenario," a health care reform bill will not get voted on or signed until mid-fall, as Congress continues to hammer out details and get legislation out of committees.

"This bill, even in the best-case scenario, will not be signed -- we won't even vote on it probably until the end of September or the middle of October," Obama said. "We're just trying to get all these different bills out of committee."