By Jared Allen - 10/27/09 03:30 PM EDT
House Democrats are days, if not hours, away from introducing the healthcare bill that will make it to the floor, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
The No. 2 Democrat in the House said it was the objective of Democrats to introduce their final bill this week so that it can be voted on next week.
What the bill looks like remains unclear. Unlike Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who on Monday announced that the final Senate bill would include a public option with an opt-out provision for the states — an announcement Reid made before pocketing the 60 votes he would need to pass such a bill — the House’s strategy has been to search for a formula that will generate 218 Democratic votes ahead of time.
A whip operation that began in earnest last week to pin members down on their support for a public option tied to current Medicare rates versus one that allows doctors and hospitals to independently negotiate their reimbursement rates continued over the weekend and spilled over into this week.
On Friday Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated an openness to a public option with negotiated rates, especially if the Senate includes some kind of public option in its legislation.
Hoyer said that the “overwhelming majority of Democrats” support a public option, but he again gave no hints as to which version is generating a critical mass of support.
Asked how many additional healthcare votes Democrats are likely to win with a negotiated-rates public option, Hoyer replied: "We don’t have that number yet.”
Pelosi has stood by her personal preference for a public option tied to “Medicare plus five percent,” saying that the Congressional Budget Office has preliminarily scored it as the biggest cost-saver.
But she asked the CBO to produce more complete scores on both versions. House leaders, as well as important blocs of Democrats in the House, continue to wait for those scores.
A Hoyer aide said Tuesday that CBO scores would be due before leaders could introduce their final bill.
With the debate on healthcare reform heating up, Democratic leaders are ramping up their floor schedule. House Democratic leaders have conveyed to their caucus that they will keep the House in session as long as necessary to pass healthcare reform legislation.
House members have been advised that the lower chamber is expected to be in session Monday through Friday next week, and there could be weekend votes. On Monday, there will be no votes until 6:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, the House is scheduled to convene with the Senate for an address from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The House will also be in session from Monday through Friday during the week of Nov. 16 and there could be votes on Nov. 23 and 24.
Mike Soraghan contributed to this article, which was updated at 2:35 p.m.