As Health Care Stalls, House Majority Leader Declares No Provision ‘Absolutely Essential’

By Matt Cover | July 28, 2009 | 4:40 PM EDT

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) ( photo/Penny Starr)

( – House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said there was no single item in the 1,000-plus-page overhaul of the nation’s health care system that was essential to reform. Rather, Hoyer said that both the House and the Senate would have to ultimately come together and work out their differences, albeit well after the president’s August deadline.
Speaking to reporters at his weekly press briefing, Hoyer said that he wanted to see what the Senate could come up with so that when lawmakers return from their summer vacation, they could remake the nation’s health system.
In a sign that intra-party negotiations continue to drag on, Hoyer declared that no single provision was sacred, not even President Obama’s coveted government-run “public option” plan.
“I want to see the Senate give its proposal so that in September we can contribute to having a conference that’s productive and results in health care reform,” said Hoyer. “I don’t think there’s any specific item that is absolutely essential to reform.”
Hoyer also said that despite falling well short of Obama’s timeline, he was not concerned that the slow pace of negotiations might imperil Congress’ and the president’s efforts.
“I wouldn’t say I’m concerned, if you mean worried,” Hoyer said. “We’ll have to see what the Senate comes up with and obviously if they’re different than we are then those differences will have to be resolved.”
Hoyer said that his party felt that the government-run health insurance bureau, which Obama calls the “public option,” was now only a “very important” provision, adding that a non-profit cooperative plan like the one being considered in the Senate might do the trick.
“We think the public option is very important,” Hoyer said, but added, “We’ll have to see what the Senate does on a co-op, how it’s formulated, see whether or not it will have a similar effect [as a public option].”
Hoyer said that whenever the House moved forward with health care, it did not need to get every Democrat on board. Unlike the Senate, Hoyer noted that the House did not need unanimity from Democrats to pass Obama’s health care agenda, only a bare majority of 218 votes.
“After all the Senate, oftentimes, has more difficulty acting than we do simply because they need 60 votes for everything they do, which would be unanimity in our own party,” said Hoyer. “We don’t require unanimity over here [in the House], we only require consensus. We require 218 so we can move forward.”
Hoyer tacitly admitted that negotiations with fiscally skeptical Blue Dog Democrats were not going well, saying that he had hoped to meet a deadline of this week for passage, but that “substantial differences” were slowing the bill’s progress.
“Clearly we are not going to see this passed this week,” Hoyer said. “I was hoping we would get there but obviously we’ve had, on the Energy and Commerce Committee, substantial differences.”
Hoyer rejected the idea that Congress’ deepening unpopularity was hurting Obama’s efforts or preventing moderate Democrats from supporting it, saying Congress was not passing “Obama-care” or “Pelosi-care” but health care reform.

President Barack Obama participates in an AARP tele-town hall on health care, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

“This is a very critical issue for the American people,” Hoyer said. “This is not about Obama-care [or] Pelosi-care. This is not about personalities. Nobody in America doesn’t believe this is a major challenge facing our country, period. This is not about a popularity contest.”
When asked by what Americans could expect when Congress returns, Hoyer said that Congress will continue to work on health care both during and after its month-long break. Hoyer also promised action on a host of other issues, including education, financial regulation and immigration.
“I think the American people not only can expect -- but what they want -- is for us to continue to work on this issue and other issues of concern to them,” said Hoyer. “During August I think we’re going to spend a lot of time dealing with those and we won’t necessarily be in session on the floor."

"But you can be sure that staff and members are going to be working on how we get from where we are now to where we need to be, on health care, on energy, on education, on financial regulation," he said, "and on other issues of concern, including immigration.”