Senate OKs Tax Break, Two-Month Delay for Medicare Payment Cut
The Senate on Saturday voted 89-10 to pass an amended version of a House-approved bill (HR 3630) that would extend a payroll tax break and delay scheduled Medicare physician reimbursement cuts for two months, Modern Healthcare reports (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 12/17).
Last week, the House voted 234-193 to pass the GOP-helmed House bill, which would extend for one year a $1,000 payroll tax break that is set to expire at the end of this month and stave off a nearly 30% cut to Medicare physician payment rates that is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Instead, the legislation would increase reimbursement rates by 1% over the next two years (California Healthline, 12/16).
The Senate's two-month payroll tax break extension and Medicare "doc fix" would cost $33 billion. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it would reduce the federal deficit by $3 billion over the next 10 years.
While President Obama has pledged to sign the short-term bill, he said lawmakers should pass a longer-term payroll tax break when they resume work in January. Obama said it would be "inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle-class tax cut for the rest of the year." He added, "And hopefully it's done with as little drama as possible when they get back in January" (Raju/Wong, Politico, 12/17).
Short-Term Extension Could Fail in House
According to the Wall Street Journal, Senate leaders initially assumed that the amended bill would pass easily in the House because it is has been endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and includes a provision related to a controversial oil pipeline that Republicans favor (Hook, Wall Street Journal, 12/18).
However, House Republicans are poised to reject the bill during a floor vote on Monday, Politico reports.
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "It is pretty clear that I, and our members, oppose the Senate bill" (Allen, Politico, 12/18). Boehner said of the short-term plan, "How can you do tax policy for two months?" He added, "We really do believe it's time for the Senate to work with the House to complete our business for the year. We've got two weeks to get this done" (Bendavid/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 12/19).
However, Senate members adjourned for recess after Saturday's vote and they are not expected to return to the Capitol until January, according to Adam Jentleson, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Jentleson said, "We have no plans to change the schedule set by" Senate leaders, adding, "There is no reason for the House to fail to pass this bipartisan bill, or keep wasting time passing bills that cannot pass the Senate."
In a statement, Reid noted, "When we met last week, Speaker Boehner requested that Senator McConnell and I work out a compromise," adding, "If Speaker Boehner refuses to vote on the bipartisan compromise that passed the Senate with 89 votes, Republicans will be forcing a thousand-dollar tax increase on middle class families on Jan. 1" (Politico, 12/18).
Lawmakers $915B Omnibus Measure, Averting Government ShutdownÂ
The plan includes $69.7 billion in HHS funding, about $700 million less than the FY 2011 budget and $3.4 billion less than what President Obama requested.
It also includes $3.9 billion for CMS Program Management, which is $241 million more than last year but $517 million below what the president requested. In addition, NIH would receive $30.7 billion in FY 2012 under the proposal, an increase of $299 million from last year and $758 million below Obama's request (California Healthline, 12/16).
The House on Friday voted 296-121 to pass the measure (Rogers, Politico, 12/16). The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 67-32 on Saturday.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the proposal cuts various government programs intended to implement provisions in the federal health reform law. He said the measure cuts 22 programs under the Labor-HHS section of the budget, saving $225 billion (The Hill, 12/17).email subscription.