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Hoyer Says House Not Bound to March 18 Target

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) made clear Tuesday that his chamber is working on its own schedule — and not the one laid out by the White House — when it comes to passing a health care overhaul.

The Maryland Democrat dismissed the March 18 target date for House passage of the Senate bill that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs set up last week. “None of us have mentioned the 18th other than Mr. Gibbs,” Hoyer said. “We are trying to do this as soon as possible. That continues to be our objective.”

House Democrats instead have set their sites on passage by March 26, when lawmakers are scheduled to leave town for the two-week spring recess. But with the added burden of a politically dicey budget to consider in that time frame, Hoyer suggested that date could slip, as well. “Our objective is to pass both before the Easter break,” he said. “Is that going to be difficult? Yes. Is it a deadline? No. I want everybody to understand that it’s an objective, not a deadline. If we can, we can. If we can’t, we can’t. We will continue to pursue both items.”

Among the thorniest issues left to resolve is Senate language on abortion that about a dozen anti-abortion-rights House Democrats have said doesn’t go far enough to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t used to fund the procedure. Hoyer said he has talked to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the lead negotiator for those concerned with the provision, about sitting down to discuss it. But he said they have not yet begun discussing substance. “It is a serious issue that obviously confronts the Congress that has to be resolved in a way consistent, I think, with our opportunity to pass health care for all Americans,” Hoyer said.

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