UPDATE 1-Conservative Democrat says US health bill not ready

Wed Jul 22, 2009 8:41pm EDT

* Fiscal conservative Dems: healthcare bill still stalled

* Blue Dog leader says not enough votes to pass as is (Adds comments on agreement, prospects for votes)

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - A stalled healthcare overhaul bill in the House of Representative should not move forward without firm numbers on cost savings, and it is unlikely to win enough votes to pass in current form, the leader of a group of conservative Democrats said on Wednesday.

"We are not ready for a mark-up," Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat speaking for the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats said, after the group met with House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman.

The Democratic-led panel is the last of three panels in the House that is drafting the legislation, which seeks to expand coverage to the 46 million uninsured and contain medical costs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier said she believed there were enough votes in the House to pass the bill.

"If that is true I don't know why we're having six-hour meetings with the chairman," Ross said. "The bottom line is I don't think they have the votes on the floor."

Waxman, speaking after the Blue Dog meeting, said continued debate on the bill was unlikely on Thursday, but that he hadn't made a decision yet.

Ross said one area where some consensus had been reached was to raise the exemption for small businesses from a penalty for not providing insurance. The proposal now calls for those with payrolls of $250,000 or less to be exempt.

"There is a general agreement that it is too low and should be raised," he said, so that small business is not hit with an up to 8 percent fee if they do not cover their workers.

Ross wants Waxman to wait until the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of the bill, known as scoring.

Last week, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf caused a stir when he said the House bill does not go far enough in containing costs.

(Editing by Doina chiacu

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