By Mike Lillis - 12/21/10 08:35 PM EST
Giving Senate Democrats months to seek a bipartisan deal on healthcare reform was the biggest mistake made by House Democrats during the 111th Congress, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
The Maryland Democrat said not moving more quickly on healthcare reform is his biggest regret of the last two years.
"We did not address the healthcare bill more quickly on the House side when the Senate kept negotiating," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. "That negotiation took a very long time, and within that context, the American people got the impression that we were not focused on what they believed was the No. 1 issue, and that was jobs."
Hoyer's reference was to the months-long negotiations between six members of the Senate Finance Committee — three from each party — who were assigned to hash out a blueprint for overhauling the nation's healthcare system.
The so-called "Gang of Six" first sat down in June of 2009, with hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal before summer's end. Three months later, however, no agreement was in sight, and Democratic leaders — pressured by the White House — abandoned the talks in favor of a partisan bill.
Although House Democrats passed a series of health reform bills out of various committees in the summer of 2009, lower-chamber leaders were waiting on Senate action before bringing a bill to the floor.
The failure of the Senate negotiations only salted the wounds surrounding that decision, Hoyer said Tuesday.
"The healthcare debate was protracted by the Senate's believing they were going to get some kind of bipartisan buy-in by the Republicans," he said. "And that never happened."
Another of Hoyer's regrets is losing the House majority in the midterm elections.
"That," he said, "goes without saying."