House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Sunday that the House must pass the Senate bill before fixes to both bills can be approved.
Hoyer is the highest-ranking House Democrat to outline that path forward, which is perceived as a critical concession to Senate Democrats.
The Maryland Democrat's comments provide one of the clearest illustrations yet of how Democrats will proceed to pass their healthcare reform overhaul. Negotiations between the House and Senate Democrats have stalled since Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) broke the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
But before that, House Democrats objected to a number of provisions in the Senate bill. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said last month that the House did not trust the Senate's ability to act.
That impinged on a plan to have the House pass the Senate's bill before both chambers could pass fixes to the Senate's bill using the budget reconciliation process. Reconciliation would allow the Senate to bypass a filibuster, which would require 60 votes to break, and pass the measure with a simple majority.
That plan was talked about again after President Barack Obama released his healthcare proposal last Monday. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) suggested that it be used last week.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) made it clear that the Senate would only use reonciliation to pass fixes that apply to the budget and not the entire proposal.
"The road for reconciliation is very limited," he said.
Hoyer said that Democrats have not yet started counting votes and have not yet nailed down all the details for what they plan to pass. Both of those will be finalized soon, he said.
"In the next couple of weeks we will have a specific proposal and start counting votes," he said.
But Republicans have said that the Democrats do not have the votes in the House to do so. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released a whip count of the Democrats last week predicting that five or six House lawmakers would switch their votes due to the use of reconciliation in the Senate.
Some senators such as Conrad, however, have warned that health reform may be "dead" if the House didn't act first, due to the procedural rules in play.
Hoyer "hopes" that the House will pass a comprehensive healthcare bill, which Republicans oppose.