President Obama may not have a final health reform bill on his desk by the end of the year, but House Democratic leaders are still committed to passing their own bill before Congress recesses in December.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters at his weekly press briefing Wednesday that he expects a full vote on the reform package reconciled from three House committee bills by Christmas. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted Tuesday night that a vote would take place by Thanksgiving, though she acknowledged that "others say Christmas."
The process is moving forward, Hoyer characteristically noted Wednesday, citing the Senate Finance Committee's 14-to-9 passage of their bill Tuesday. The "aye" vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was "a very positive note," Hoyer said, that offered "some glimmer" of bipartisanship. "I would hope that we can find some Republicans on the House side that would join her in that effort, at least in discussing possible options," he said.
However, Hoyer said, that doesn't mean House Democrats feel obligated to sign on to a reform bill they don't like, either in the interest of compromise or speed. "I think that's very unlikely," he scoffed at the prospect of the House rubber-stamping a unified Senate bill. "I would be shocked if there's not a very robust conference where we come to grips with the differences between the House and the Senate."
During conference, Hoyer said, Snowe's level of influence will be a function of how many of Republican votes she can help deliver -- probably just her own.
Pelosi's promise of a vote by Thanksgiving may be complicated by Congress' abundant vacation next month. Hoyer said he expects the House to be out of session during both the week of Thanksgiving and the week of Veteran's Day, which falls on a Wednesday this year and thus limits the ability of the chamber to cobble a workweek around it.
Though Hoyer expressed confidence that the House will pass a health care bill in 2009, he stopped short of promising anything.
"Can I guarantee that? No. Do I think it will? Yes," he said. "I am way beyond guaranteeing what we're going to do and when we're going to do it."