House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday laid out a path forward for passing health care legislation that wouldn't require House Democrats to first swallow a Senate plan that they largely oppose.
Details are still in flux on the procedure that Democrats will use to deliver a health care bill to the president's desk. The assumption has been that the House would first need to pass the $871 billion Senate bill, which would then be signed into law, and then followed by a package of fixes through the reconciliation process to appease House Democrats.
Hoyer said that while the House is constitutionally required to initiate reconciliation bills, that doesn't mean the House would have to pass the Senate bill first before passing a reconciliation bill to amend it.
"We could pass the reconciliation first, have the reconciliation passed by the Senate and then pass the Senate bill," Hoyer said. From there, he said, the president would have to sign the Senate bill first and then the reconciliation package.
Hoyer conceded that process would be "more complicated," however, since House lawmakers would effectively be reconciling a bill that hasn't been passed yet. The key in that scenario is that Congressional leaders would "have to write [a reconciliation bill] so that, in fact, you have effected that end," he said.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday is set to announce his plan for advancing his $950 billion health care overhaul, which largely mirrors the Senate proposal. Hoyer said Obama must use his speech to reassure House Democrats that their initial support for the Senate proposal is a necessary means to enacting crucial reforms.
"They need to hear things that will give them a level of confidence that these are things that will work, that will provide their people with health care coverage and that their people will think is a step forward," Hoyer said.
Liberal House Democrats in particular have called on Senate leaders to give them a letter of assurance, signed by all Senate Democrats, stating that they will agree to modify the Senate bill in exchange for the House passing it and sending it back to them.
Hoyer said it's not so much a lack of trust of the Senate, but more about the "experience" of the Senate being unable to deliver. He said he didn't necessarily need a letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stating his commitment to passing a package of fixes since his word is good enough.
"I trust Leader Reid if he tells me he thinks he can do something ... I think he'll be able to do it," said the Maryland Democrat. But, he added, "Obviously the most optimal way is for them to do it first, and then you have in effect great trust and you've verified."