House Majority Leader Says Dems Have The Votes

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President Obama has a sure vote in Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Majority Leader, who is trying to rally and convince any wavering Democrats. Host Scott Simon talks to Hoyer about the revised health care bill.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

President Obama has a sure vote in Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader who's trying to rally and convince any wavering Democrats. Representative Hoyer joins us now live from his office at the Capitol. Representative Hoyer, busy weekend. Thanks for making time for us.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland): You bet, Scott. Good to be with you.

SIMON: Do you have the votes?

Rep. HOYER: I think we're going to have the votes when the roll is called tomorrow, yes.

SIMON: That's not the same thing.

Rep. HOYER: Pardon? No, it's not the same thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Are you holding back any commitments in your pocket, kind of unveil them this afternoon or anything?

Rep. HOYER: Well, I think there are people who have not publicly indicated that they're going to be supporting this legislation that are going to be making that point some time between now and when we vote, yes.

SIMON: Forgive me for being this blunt, but I mean is there a veterans hospital in Tennessee or some kind of covered bridge that you can arrange for Democrats from that state, like Bart Gordon or Jim Cooper?

Rep. HOYER: No, we're not doing that. And Bart Gordon, Jim Cooper and other members of the House are going to make this determination based upon whether or not they think this plan is something that's needed and appropriate and will make us a healthier, stronger nation. I think that's accurate. We're talking to members on the merits of the legislation that's pending.

SIMON: An observer can't resist the observation that some of the elements of the bill that seemed unpopular a few weeks ago, like taxing the high-end insurance plans - which would have the effect of penalizing some people with good health care coverage now - has seemed to get less attention than some other aspects. Has that been a deliberate strategy?

Rep. HOYER: Well, I think that, frankly, the so-called bending the curve provisions, which were very important and obviously we want to bring (unintelligible) cost of health care, but that that particular provision to which you refer has been substantially modified so that it would not kick in until 1918, excuse me, 2018, and it's set at 27,500 as the value of the policy. So it's a very high-end policy, and there's certain exceptions to that for certain people who have particular illnesses that make them have an expensive policy or age groups, gender or work status - dangerous occupations.

So I think that provision has been modified significantly, while at the same time preserving its ability to bend the cost curve and bring health care costs down.

SIMON: But when you say it won't kick in until 2018, does have the I mean does that have the practical effect of not making people concentrate on what the ultimate effect will be?

Rep. HOYER: Well, I think people have focused on that, but many of the people who focus on it early on have come to conclude that first of all it will not effect a large number of people and the people that it does effect are buying very high-end policies and getting tax benefits for that.

The average American will not be effected by this. So I think that's part of the reason that the focus has shifted somewhat, and I think the other reason is that, yes, to some degree the delayed effect of the focus has not been as great.

SIMON: There's a score(ph) of Democrats for whom abortion is a moral issue. Now, party leaders have said to them, look, this is a big tent, there's room for your convictions in our party, but they could be the decisive group here. What assurances can you give them that federal funds won't be used to finance abortion?

Rep. HOYER: Well, as you know, many Catholic groups, Catholic hospitals, group of 59,000, organization representing 59,000 Catholic nuns, and a number of Catholic papers, have come out and endorsed the so-called Nelson language, Nelson-Casey(ph) language, which we believe, and I think most people believe, does in fact preclude what is the law now, and that is public funds being used to purchase abortion coverage or abortion services; we think that's appropriate. And both sides, frankly, want to get to that objective.

And the issue is whether or not we've gotten to that objective. But we have a number of very strong pro-life legislators who have concluded that the language included in the Senate bill does in fact accomplish that objective, and I agree with that. So we have told members that that's what it does.

SIMON: Thanks, Mr. Hoyer. The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

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