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Hoyer softens on public option

From NBC's Luke Russert
In his first off-camera pen-and-pad session with reporters since Congress adjourned for recess over a month ago, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) hinted that he would support a health-care reform bill without a government funded public option: "I think the bill if you didn't have a public option has much that is very good and moves us forward." He continued, "If the public option isn't in there, I still could support a bill, because I think there is a lot in there that is good."

Recently, the public option has proved a significant point of contention within the Democratic Party. The Progressive Caucus as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and other left-leaning orders within the party have said they will not support a bill that does not include a "robust public option." In late July, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), a leader in the Progressive Caucus said her group would "demand that the final healthcare legislation has a robust public option and to vow we will vote against it if it does not."

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a statement said, "A bill without a strong public option will not pass the House. Eliminating the public option would be a major victory for the insurance companies who have rationed care, increased premiums and denied coverage."

Today it looks like Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, is differing with Pelosi on this divisive issue. Earlier today on MSNBC, the No. 3 Democrat, Jim Clyburn, also indicated he could support a bill that did not include the public option.

Hoyer also mentioned that "I don't have a timetable" when it came to the question of when a health-care reform bill would be passed. Hoyer stressed that the August recess was productive and that delaying health-care reform until the fall was a good idea

"It was clear that a lot of our members and the American public wanted to take a closer look at this bill," he said. "Quite frankly, they were correct. The bill deals with a huge critical segment of our economy and the quality of people's lives. August was a learning experience and a very useful one."

Hoyer concluded the session by saying what could be the new party line for moderate Democratic members: "I think a bill can pass the House if the majority of the House believes the bill enhances and moves forward substantially the providing of accessible quality health care."