Cloudy Road Ahead on Health Care Reform

Congressional Democratic leaders aren’t saying that health care reform is dead. But they’re not saying they know how to get it done, either.

“We are going to continue to work on health care,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who dismissed assertions that the election two weeks ago of Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) was a repudiation of the Democrats’ health care reform efforts.

“The Massachusetts vote was more about apprehension and the economy,” Hoyer said, noting that his side was trying to develop a plan to get the health care reform plan back on the legislative agenda.

Congressional Democrats were primed to approve a final health care bill until Massachusetts voters elected Brown, stripping Democrats of their 60-seat Senate supermajority that could block GOP filibusters.

Hoyer indicated the Democratic brain trust was considering a number of options, ranging from a conference committee to resolve differences in the health bill, to using special budget rules that would allow Democrats to bypass the supermajority requirement to quash Senate debate. He also said it was possible that Democrats could break the broader bill into smaller pieces of legislation. But Hoyer appeared skeptical of that option.

When asked if it was possible for Democrats to approve health care this year, Hoyer noted it was still early.

“It’s February 2,” he said. “I don’t think time is running out.”

Reporters then pressed the leader if he thought Democrats could agree to a health care roadmap this week.

“I anticipate making a decision as the way forward is clear,” Hoyer said cryptically.

A reporter then reminded the Maryland Democrat that he said a decision would be made this week.

“I was in error,” Hoyer said with a laugh.