Hoyer: Public health plan might have to go

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that a public option might need to be dropped from the healthcare bill in order to get it passed.

"In the final analysis, we have to see what will pass," said Hoyer (D-Md.). "If the public option wasn't in there, I still could support it, because I think there's a lot in there that's good."
 

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Hoyer made similar remarks during the August recess, but went into considerably more detail upon returning to Congress for the start of a crucial work period that is expected to include a vote on the House legislation. A government-run health insurance option that would compete with the private sector is in the bill, but Democratic centrists have expressed concern over the provision and Republicans have signaled it as a deal-breaker.

Hoyer's position contradicts that of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said last week that a bill without a government-run insurance plan "will not pass the House." And it risks alientating liberals who have threatened to oppose healthcare reform if the provision is left out.
 
But the No. 2 Democrat appears more in line with President Barack Obama, who has stressed that the public option "is not the entirety of healthcare reform." Obama is to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, and lawmakers will be listening closely to what he says about a public option.
 
Obama is scheduled to meet with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) later in the day on Tuesday.
 
Hoyer said that even without the public option, there are other crucial changes to the healthcare system, such as capping out-of-pocket healthcare costs for consumers and improving access to health insurance.
 
And he invoked the memory of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), an avid proponent of the public option, noting he would compromise "to garner enough votes to change policy. That's what we're trying to do."
 
Hoyer's remarks came on the same day that Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the point man on healthcare for the centrist Blue Dog Democrats, announced he would not support a public option. In July, Ross and several other Blue Dogs reached a compromise on the public option that got the bill through the Energy and Commerce Committee.
 
That indicates a widening gulf between the party's centrists and liberals. There are 60 Democrats who have signed a letter opposing any weakening of the public option.
 
Hoyer also indicated that a House vote might not come until after members have a clearer idea of what the Senate intends to do and what can pass.
 
"I don't have a timetable" for bringing the bill to the floor, Hoyer said. "There are some of us, myself included, who would like to see what the Senate will do."
 
This article was updated at 1:11 p.m.