Hoyer: Dems "playing it straight" on health care bill
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer strongly defended a Democratic plan to have the House approve Senate health care legislation without actually voting on it.
Hoyer, at a news conference in his Capitol office on Tuesday, stopped short of saying that a final decision had been made to use a controversial procedure when the House takes up health care later this week.
He corrected himself at one point after he indicated that Democratic leaders have decided to use the arcane maneuver, which would spare the House a direct vote on the Senate measure. Instead, the Senate legislation--which many Democrats would rather not have to vote on--will be "deemed" to have been approved, and the House would vote instead on a more politically attractive measure that combined health care with popular education legislation.
"We are playing it straight," Hoyer insisted. He said American voters would not care what process Congress uses to enact a sweeping health care overhaul and would focus instead on the merits of the new law.
At the same time, he defended the use of the procedural sidestep, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that she was considering employing. He cited statistics that, he said, showed that Republicans had used "deeming" process about twice as often as Democrats over the years.
Hoyer did not specify what period of time or what types of legislation were approved using the procedure.
Republicans have attacked the plan in both political and substantive terms, with some House Republicans raising questions about the legality of approving a major law in that way.
Hoyer, in turn, said Republicans were to blame for Democratic consideration of the procedural maneuver. He indicated that, if it was used, it would be because of the Republican strategy of trying to obstruct consideration of the health care legislation that President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have attempted to advance over the past year.
The southern Maryland congressman did not say when the legislation would reach a final vote in the House, now expected sometime later this week or over the weekend. He did say that the health care and education measures--which includes an expansion of the student loan program--were likely to be combined into a single package.
Hoyer acknowledged the strong support for the education measure but he stopped short of saying that combining the two pieces of legislation was mainly a political decision designed to make it easier to get the health care overhaul approved, as California Democratic Rep. George Miller, the Education committee chairman, has said. Hoyer traced the plans to merge the two measures back to last March.
The second-ranking Democrat in the House said he expects that "when we bring this bill to the House floor, we will have the votes for it."