Conference Committee Discusses Payroll Tax Cut, Medicare ‘Doc Fix’
On Tuesday, a bicameral, bipartisan conference committee met to discuss extending a payroll tax cut and delaying scheduled cuts to Medicare physician reimbursement rates, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.
Lawmakers are discussing a yearlong extension of the initiatives, which must be passed by the time a previous short-term agreement expires at the end of February.
Panel Members Optimistic
Committee members from both parties were optimistic that they could reach an agreement before the deadline. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, "We should be able to get it done." Meanwhile, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "It's our job to work together here to make sure this tax cut doesn't expire."
However, Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to offset the roughly $160 billion cost of extending the tax cut and doc fix (Taylor, AP/U-T San Diego, 1/24). Democrats want to increase taxes for high-income U.S. residents, but Republicans on the committee said such a proposal would not pass the House or the Senate (Becker/Wasson, "On the Money," The Hill, 1/24).
Kyl noted that lawmakers still can explore various offsets considered by the congressional debt panel that failed to develop a plan for $1.5 trillion in savings last fall (AP/U-T San Diego, 1/24).
Lawmakers acknowledged that there has been little change since they previously discussed the payroll tax cut and doc fix issues in December 2011, when they ultimately agreed to a two-month extension.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said, "I almost feel like I've seen this movie before," but "the plot and the characters are somewhat different" (Goldfarb, CQ Today, 1/24).
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said the committee will meet again Feb. 1 (Weisman, New York Times, 1/24).
Committee Disagrees on Length of Doc Fix
According to Modern Healthcare, lawmakers on the committee were at odds over whether to seek a permanent or temporary fix to the scheduled Medicare physician reimbursement cuts.
Some House Republicans are considering a two-year delay of the cuts, which would be paid for in part with billions of reductions in federal health reform law spending.
However, Democrats argued for permanent replacement of the sustainable growth rate formula that determines the cuts, noting that they could offset the $300 billion cost of fully repealing the SGR with savings from the end of the Iraq War. Democrats encouraged Congress to act in a timely manner, noting that the expected cost of repealing the SGR would increase to $600 billion in five years (Daly, Modern Healthcare, 1/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.