House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told cheering and jeering constituents Tuesday he still supports a public health insurance option as part of a health care overhaul.
Previously he's said there's room for compromise.
At a packed high school gym, Hoyer, D-Md., was shouted down repeatedly during a town hall meeting where a crowd of 1,500 appeared to be evenly split between supporters and opponents of the health care overhaul effort.
One woman pressed the Democratic leader on whether he'd give in on the public option if Republicans refused to compromise.
"If the question is do I plan to vote for a public option with or without Republican support, the answer is yes," Hoyer said.
A public option would lower insurance premiums for everyone through competition with private insurers, he said. The House, he said, would not pass an alternative calling for nonprofit cooperatives, which has been floated in the Senate.
Last month, Hoyer seemed to contradict House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the essential ingredients of a health care overhaul package when he said he wanted a bill that would pass. A public option provision in any bill would face strong opposition.
Hoyer's office had organized a panel of citizens for Tuesday's event to provide "real-world" stories about their experiences with the current health care system. But they could barely speak over the shouting and boos.
The first questioner who challenged Hoyer directly, April Burke of Mechanicsville, Md., said her son and daughter in law both had lost their jobs and health insurance but were covered by the state.
"So why should I want to have the government get into my business?" she asked Hoyer.
The congressman said Burke's family would benefit from the health care overhaul being proposed. But she shouted back: "We want government out of our business now."
Others in the crowd wore T-shirts supporting the health overhaul that read "Our Lives Depend on it."