Majority Leader Hoyer to reach out to GOP's Cantor on healthcare

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday he would reach out to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and other Republicans to seek common ground on healthcare.

"I'm going to be reaching out to a number of Republicans over the next day or so," said Hoyer (D-Md.), specifically citing Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) in addition to Cantor (R-Va.). "We are certainly more than willing to pursue any suggestion they may have."

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His attempt to broker a bipartisan deal comes after a summer when Republicans voted against or voiced concerns with every piece of healthcare legislation Democrats are moving.

It also comes as partisan lines stiffen in the other chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday gave Republicans his most direct warning yet that he’s prepared to use a procedural maneuver that would force healthcare reform through with a simple majority vote.

Hoyer appears to be attempting to head that off, focusing on comments Boustany made that Republicans agree on “80 percent of the issues” surrounding healthcare.

Boustany delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama's healthcare address to Congress earlier this month. Cantor has also said there are broad areas of agreement between the two parties.

"I want to find out what that 80 percent is," said Hoyer. "Because if we have 80 percent, we ought to work very hard on that remaining 20 percent."

But that final 20 percent includes provisions getting the most attention right now: a government-run public insurance plan, penalties on employers who don't provide health insurance and new taxes to pay the cost.

A spokesman for Cantor noted the GOP opposition to the public option when saying his boss is open to seeking common ground.

"Mr. Cantor has made very clear that like that a majority of the House, he does not support [the House bill]," said Brad Dayspring, Cantor's spokesman. "He’s also made very clear that when it comes to strengthening health care in America, he believes it’s far more productive to focus on areas where we may be able to agree, rather than on divisive issues like the public option – in whatever form – as the President and Speaker Pelosi have chosen to do."

Boustany issued a statement later in the day saying he would meet with Hoyer.

“As a heart surgeon with close to 20 years experience, I’ve seen the problems with rising health care costs firsthand, and Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree on many significant reforms that would lower health care costs for Americans,” Boustany said in the statement.  “I appreciate the Majority Leader’s desire to talk about the broad solutions I outlined following the President’s remarks to Congress week before last, and I look forward to meeting with him soon to discuss patient-centered alternatives to [the House bill].”

The two sides have feuded bitterly about healthcare, while still saying they want a "bipartisan bill."

House Republicans have complained repeatedly that they have been shut out of the process of drafting the legislation. For instance, many asked for meetings with the president after he told Congress in his speech that "my door is always open." They've complained that they got no response from the White House.

But Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have rejected the criticism, saying House Republicans had a chance to offer amendments in committee. Some were agreed to, she noted, while others were voted down.

Boustany spokesman Rick Curtsinger said Boustany sees agreement on wellness programs, allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines, allowing individuals and small businesses to join together in insurance pools and providing some sort of government assistance to help low-income people pay health premiums.

Boustany, a heart surgeon, was also glad to hear Obama talk about changing medical malpractice rules.

In addition, Cantor has said Republicans can agree on healthcare "portability" and ensuring that people with "pre-existing conditions" can still get coverage.

"We need to come up with a bill that reflects common ground and then work out the issues where we don't agree," Curtsinger said.

- This article was updated at 3:14 p.m.

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