POLITICS
04/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Steny Hoyer: House Must Move First On Health Care

Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that the House must move on a package of fixes to the health care bill before the Senate can act.

House and Senate Democratic leaders have been arguing for weeks over which chamber should jump first: House leaders say their members don't trust that the Senate will follow. Senate leaders argue that for technical, legislative reasons, the House must pass something before the Senate can act.

Hoyer came around to the Senate view on Sunday. On Friday evening, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel came to the Capitol to hash out health care strategy, with several senior aides speculating that he would push Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to go first.

"Whether we're willing or not, we have to go first if we're going to correct some of the things that the House disagrees with. Not correct--change, so we can reach agreement. The House will have to move first on some sort of corrections or reconciliation bill, which follows a process that the Republicans followed 16 out of the last 22 times it's been done, for very major pieces, including their tax cuts, which were really more dollar value" than health care, Hoyer said.

The Maryland Democrat appeared on CBS's "Face The Nation," along with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Budget Committee, who knows reconciliation as well as, perhaps, anybody on the planet.

Conrad highlighted the difficulty for House Democrats. In order for reconciliation to have a role, he said, the House must first pass the Senate bill -- which many House members detest -- because reconciliation can not be used to correct a law that has yet to become a law.

The House, in other words, would have to pass the Senate bill and take the upper chamber's word that it would then approve corrections through reconciliation.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued to Conrad that reconciliation couldn't be used at all as it relates to health care.

"That's not a reasonable position to take, congresswoman," Conrad said.

"Reconciliation can not be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won't work," he added "It won't work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction."

Conrad continued: "The role for reconciliation would be very limited. It would be on sidecar issues designed to improve what passed the Senate and what would have to pass the House for health care reform to move forward."

Conrad said he was behind the strategy. "We have to do it because we're on an unsustainable course," he said.