House Dems expect health compromise with Senate, but cool on public option

House Democratic leaders on Tuesday expressed confidence that the two chambers will reach an eventual compromise on a single healthcare reform bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also hinted that the House will abandon its preference for a government-run "public option" in the process.

Emerging from a two-hour long meeting with her leadership team and three key House chairman, Pelosi did not directly say that the public option -- among the biggest of the political and substantive differences between the House and the Senate's healthcare bills -- would be dropped.  But the Speaker said that House Democrats would stand by any policy that lived up to a set of principles.

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"We want our final product, and I think everyone in the House and the Senate would agree, to ensure affordability for the middle class and accountability for the insurance companies as it provides accessibility by lowering costs at every stage," Pelosi said. "And those are the standards that we have, which I think are shared in the House and the Senate."

Leaders gave no clear or consistent indications, however, on how long those discussions would last, nor about what form they will take.

"We know that [our constituents] are looking forward to us using the time between now and when we reconvene [on Jan. 12] to have the legislation well under way to reconciliation," Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said.  "There are real good things in the Senate bill and great things in the House bill."

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) noted that "there are significant differences," between the two bills.

"We will be discussing these in the next coming weeks," said Hoyer, who, as a centrist, has been the quickest among House leaders to embrace the Senate's preferred direction.  "We expect to move very, very forcefully on this effort to bring these two bills together.  We are very hopeful that we will pass the conference report in the near term and send it to the president for his signature."

Hoyer's specific mention of a "conference report" was meant in the generic sense, his staff later clarified.  In fact, Pelosi and Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) stated on Tuesday's press conference that House and Senate leaders have yet to decide on the mechanism for merging the two bills.

Many have long assumed that Democrats would turn to a traditional bicameral conference to iron out policy differences and sign off on a single House-Senate bill.  But speculation has built in recent weeks that leaders in both chambers have decided to opt for having the House take up a pre-agreed-upon set of changes as a package of Senate amendments to the House bill.

That prospect stirred up additional problems for Democrats on Tuesday, who were confronted with a formal request from C-SPAN to allow the network to film and broadcast the bicameral deliberations, and additional questions from reporters about whether or not they would grant C-SPAN's request.

"We don't even know yet whether there's going to be a conference," said Van Hollen, who Pelosi tapped to tackle the C-SPAN issue. " As the Speaker said, it's not clear whether or not that's going to happen."