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Salt Lake Tribune: Matheson, Other 'Blue Dog' Dems, Meet With Obama On Health Care

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Location: Washington, DC

Salt Lake Tribune: Matheson, Other 'Blue Dog' Dems, Meet With Obama On Health Care

President Barack Obama talked about health care for more than an hour Tuesday with a group of fiscally conservative House Democrats, including Utah's Jim Matheson, who have expressed misgivings about the reform package moving through Congress.

The group, known as the Blue Dog Democrats, has been able to stymie progress in the House Energy and Commerce Committee over concerns about the cost of the package and its ability to create a more affordable health care system.

Obama attempted to assuage the group's concerns Tuesday, discussing in detail ways to trim the bill's $1 trillion price tag but also ways to boost its ability to tamp down the rising costs of insurance premiums and deductibles for average Americans.

"You can't add to the deficit and you've got to control costs," Matheson said after the meeting.

"The president said he wouldn't sign a bill that doesn't meet those two goals and the Blue Dogs feel the same way."

Matheson was one of seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee who attended the quickly arranged White House meeting on health care. Three other Democratic leaders also were present. Aside from the meeting with the president, the group spent an additional two hours talking to senior White House staff about their concerns -- a clear indication of the power they wield on this key issue.

Specifically, the Blue Dogs want to slim down the government subsidies in the plan, which would greatly reduce its overall cost.

The House bill now calls for a sliding scale of federal support to people up to 400 percent above the poverty level, or about $88,000 annual income for a family. Blue Dogs want to cut off subsidies for anyone above 300 percent of the poverty level, or a household income of about $66,000 per year.

The conservative Democrats also have demanded that any government-created health insurance plan only be used as a fallback.

The president has touted what is known as "the public option" as a lever the government could use to keep health insurance companies in line. The idea would be to offer a government-run option next to a large number of private health insurance plans in state-based exchanges.

But Republicans have ripped the plan as a Trojan horse for government control of the health insurance market, while conservative Democrats have also been skeptical.

Matheson and the Blue Dogs are also interested in a new Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that would have the power to find cost savings within the current bureaucracy.

White House budget chief Peter Orzag told reporters that it's an idea the president wants to explore.

"There is not one or two things we have to do in terms of addressing health care," Matheson said. "There is not one big grand slam home run to fix it all; you have to have a lot of singles."

But if the cost issue is not addressed in some fashion, Matheson said, it would be hard for him to support his party's attempt to reform health care for the first time in nearly half a century.

Earlier in the day, Obama made a speech on health care, saying: "I know that there is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences instead of underscoring common ground. But make no mistake: We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we're going to get the job done."

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