Politics

Hoyer Expects Obama to Focus on Jobs, Not Health Care in State of the Union

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says he doesn’t expect President Obama to lay out a roadmap for health care reform when he delivers his State of the Union speech before a Joint Session of Congress Wednesday night.

“I would be surprised if he would say specifically how he hopes to get health care done,” Hoyer said, noting that he anticipated the president to focus instead on jobs and the economy.

Just a week ago, Democrats were trying to merge House and Senate versions of the landmark legislation into a single, unified package. But the stunning election of Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) stripped Democrats of the 60 votes required to block a Republican filibuster. Brown’s victory brought the health care negotiations to a screeching halt and forced Democrats to scrap the old calculus of how they intended a pass a bill. But as yet, no new strategy has emerged.

“By next week, we need to come to focus on how we want to move forward,” Hoyer said. “We’re trying to figure out what is possible.”

Late last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she didn’t have the votes in the House to okay the Senate’s health care bill. Hoyer reiterated that point Tuesday. But signaled there was no path forward yet on salvaging the bill.

In fact, there’s been speculation that Democrats could drop health care reform altogether and focus instead on the economy. Many House Democrats facing tough re-election fights have pleaded with the Democratic brain trust to stop burning valuable political capital on health care and turn instead to jobs. However, Hoyer said even though rank-and-file Democrats disagree on how to move ahead on health care, they remain resolute in their wishes to improve the system.

“I have not found any member who says ‘drop it. Let us turn away,’” Hoyer said.

Hoyer also downplayed criticism that Democrats frittered away time on health care last in 2009 when they should have focused on the economy . He pointed out that one of the first pieces of legislation the House okayed last year was the stimulus package. And House Democrats approved a smaller economic package just before the winter recess.

“Anyone who thinks we were distracted by health care was not watching what we were doing last year,” Hoyer said.

Still, many assailed the stimulus package for failing to fuel a robust economic recovery. And Democrats struggled to cobble together enough votes for the smaller jobs bill in December. That’s because the Senate didn’t intend to take up that legislation. And many fiscally-conscious Democrats were wary of additional government spending.