Hoyer meets Boustany but fails to find middle ground on healthcare

There's not as much bipartisan agreement on healthcare as Republicans have advertised, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

Last week, Hoyer said he wanted to talk to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.), who'd suggested there was as much as 80 percent agreement between House Republicans and Democrats.

Hoyer said he didn't find it.

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He said he talked to Boustany, who'd cited the 80 percent figure in his response to President Barack Obama's speech to Congress, and found it to be an exaggeration.

"The 80 percent was more rhetorical than it was real," Hoyer said.

He said he had not talked to Cantor, but read a press release he'd issued that said, "Let's reset the healthcare debate and start from scratch."

"It did not appear to me to leap off the page that we agree to 80 percent of what's been proposed," Hoyer said. "I think perhaps 80 percent was not as close as I would have hoped we would have been."

Cantor says he'd still like to meet with Hoyer.

"In the absence of an invitation from the majority leader, Mr. Cantor will request a meeting with Mr. Hoyer this week to focus on the areas of agreement as outlined in previous public statements," said Cantor spokesman Brady Dayspring. "Mr. Cantor looks forward to a positive policy forum where the exchange of ideas is welcome.”

House Republicans are all but unified against the bill proposed by Democrats, citing inclusion of a government-run insurance plan, an income surtax on the wealthy, penalties against employers who don't provide health insurance and cuts to Medicare.

Hoyer's suggestion comes after Republicans have voted against or voiced objections to every piece of healthcare legislation Democrats are moving.

And in the Senate, leaders are warning they might use a procedural maneuver that would force healthcare reform through with a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 votes usually required.

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

Boustany spokesman Rick Curtsinger said last week that Boustany sees agreement on enacting 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 providing for healthcare "portability" and ensuring that people with "pre-existing conditions" can still get coverage.

Republicans say Democrats should focus on those areas of agreement before moving on to the more contentious issues.