House Leaders: No Decisions Yet on Health Care Negotiations

Posted January 5, 2010 at 3:26pm

House Democratic leaders met Tuesday with committee chairmen to discuss looming health care negotiations with the Senate, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she has yet to decide how to proceed.

Democratic aides had said earlier this week that leaders planned to “pingpong— the bill between the chambers rather than hold a formal conference committee, bypassing a cloture vote in the Senate and opportunities for Republicans to force politically damaging votes on the House and Senate floors. But Pelosi told reporters and her Members that a decision to sidestep a formal conference had not yet been made.

“We will take the route that does the job for the American people,— she said.

Pelosi also said she still believes the public insurance option is the best way to hold the insurance companies accountable and hold down costs but said she is willing to consider other alternatives that would accomplish the same result. “Unless we hold the insurance companies accountable, we will not be able to have affordability for the middle class,— she said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Assistant to the Speaker, said a decision on the path forward would likely be made by the time the House comes back into session on Jan. 12.

“Both of them have their strengths and both of them have their weaknesses,— he said of the conference committee and less formal pingpong approach.

Pelosi, meanwhile, defended the Democrats’ handling of the health care bill so far. “There has never been a more open process,— she said.

Van Hollen also said the House considers nixing the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies to be a priority. Senate leaders stripped the provision at the behest of moderate holdout Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

“We think that is very important, especially if you don’t have a public option,— Van Hollen said, so that insurance companies “can’t collude in setting prices.—

Top Democratic leaders are heading to the White House on Tuesday evening to talk about the health care endgame. House leaders plan to meet daily on the issue until a bill is finished, Democrats said, with the next meeting planned for Wednesday morning and a full Caucus meeting planned for Thursday.