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Hoyer lays out ambitious Democratic agenda for 2021, with health care at top

Hoyer lays out ambitious Democratic agenda for 2021, with health care at top
© Bonnie Cash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerAlabama Republican becomes third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week House Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel Congress faces late-year logjam MORE (D-Md.) on Tuesday outlined a broad and ambitious legislative agenda for 2021, predicting Democrats will have unified power to move the party's priorities on issues as varied as health care, infrastructure, climate change and gun reform. 

"I think we're going to deal with all of those — and more," he said on a call with reporters.

First on tap, Hoyer said, would be another round of emergency coronavirus relief, which has stalled this month amid partisan differences over the size and scope of the next aid package. 

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Hoyer, echoing comments from President Trump just hours earlier, said he's hopeful the sides can unite in the post-election session to adopt another massive stimulus bill. 

"It may not be as much as we want, but [a] comprehensive bill," he said.

Yet Hoyer also suggested the coronavirus relief effort will spill into the next Congress, noting that no vaccine is expected before then. Democrats have pressed for assurances that distribution of the vaccine, if and when it arrives, will be free and equitable, without disadvantaging lower-income families and minorities.   

"The president's right: the only way we're going to solve this ultimately is the vaccine," he said. "The problem is the president said it was going to happen months ago or weeks ago or whatever, and deluded the American people."

Hoyer, who is expected to return as House majority leader next year, said Democrats will also elevate efforts to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, an issue of particular urgency to party leaders because the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Nov. 10 — just a week after Election Day — in a suit seeking the law's full repeal.

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Democrats have accused Republicans of racing to seat Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs MORE — a conservative who was confirmed by the Senate on Monday — for the very purpose of undoing former President Obama's signature domestic achievement, a notion Hoyer amplified on Tuesday.

"Obviously, Coney Barrett's going to be hearing that case," he said. "Obviously they rushed her through for that reason."

Hoyer also ticked off a host of other issues Democrats plan to tackle next Congress, pointing as a template to the scores of bills Democrats passed over the last two years under Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.).

That extensive list includes efforts to adopt massive infrastructure spending, reform police practices, tackle climate change with a shift to green energy, expand background checks on gun purchases and revamp the campaign finance system, including the elimination of dark money. Virtually all of those proposals were disregarded, after House passage, by the Republican-controlled Senate. 

"Much of what bills we passed I think we'll look at them again," Hoyer said. "Because again, it's not as if they were defeated in the Senate, they were just ignored in the Senate." 

Even if Democrats win both chambers of Congress, they would not have free rein to move their legislative wish list given the filibuster power of the minority party in the Senate. But Democrats are banking that the popularity of their various agenda items — most of which enjoy broad public support — would force the hand of Senate Republicans in the next Congress. 

"If some of the issues we passed they felt were unpopular, they'd be going after those," Hoyer said. "They're not going after the Affordable Care Act anymore, as they did in 2016 and 2018."

A week before Nov. 3, Hoyer's remarks represent both a legislative forecast and an eleventh hour campaign pitch to voters of all stripes, who are highly energized and already heading to the polls by the millions around the country. 

With Trump trailing badly in the polls, Hoyer voiced confidence that Democrats would pick up numerous seats in the House — he put the net gain near 15 — flip control of the Senate and secure the White House with a Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE victory.

"I think it's pretty well cooked," Hoyer said. 

The House is scheduled to return to Washington on Nov. 16, with lawmakers facing not only pressure to move more coronavirus relief, but also a Dec. 11 deadline to fund the federal government and prevent a shutdown.

Hoyer said he's already advising members to be flexible beyond Dec. 11, in the event that negotiators need more time to secure a deal on the spending bill.

"But," he quickly added, "I'm going to press very, very hard to complete our business, both on COVID-19 and on an omnibus or a CR [continuing resolution]" before then.