Senate To Vote on Rival Proposals To Avoid Cuts Under Sequestration
Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are expected to vote this week on two rival proposals to avert the mandated spending cuts under sequestration, which are scheduled to take effect March 1, The Hill reports (Bolton, The Hill, 2/26).
The mandated cuts involve nearly $1 trillion in across-the-board reductions, including a 2% reduction to Medicare reimbursement rates. In January, President Obama signed legislation -- negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- that delayed the cuts until March 1 (California Healthline, 2/19).
Details of Senate Proposals
The Democratic proposal -- sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- would freeze the sequester through the end of 2013 and offset the $110 billion cost with an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases, which Republicans strongly oppose, according to The Hill.
Meanwhile, the Republican proposal -- sponsored by McConnell -- would maintain the $85 million in spending reductions under sequestration but give President Obama more flexibility to decide how the reductions would be dispersed among federal programs (The Hill, 2/26). GOP lawmakers argue that the bill could protect the most vital programs, such as meat inspection, while shifting more of the political ramifications to the White House.
Don Stewart -- spokesperson for McConnell -- said that the details have not been solidified and that no decision had been made regarding how cuts would be dispersed among the largest parts of the budget, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
White House spokesperson Jay Carney dismissed the Republican proposal, saying no amount of flexibility could mitigate the damage of the sequester and that such changes could help only "on the margins" (Weisman/Shear, New York Times, 2/26).
The Republican proposal has also garnered strong opposition from Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who on Monday warned against giving away Congress' constitutional power in order to avoid taking responsibility for the sequester's adverse effects (Rogers/Raju, Politico, 2/25).
A senior Democratic aide said the Senate likely will hold votes on Thursday, but neither proposal is expected to gain the 60 votes needed to pass. According to The Hill, the votes are being held as part of efforts to gain public support in the debate over the sequester (The Hill, 2/26).
Obama Urges Governors To Push for a Deal To Avoid the Sequester
On Monday, Obama criticized Congress for "careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis," and urged governors to press their states' congressional members for a deal to avert the automated spending cuts, the Los Angeles Times reports (Hennessey, Los Angeles Times, 2/25).
Speaking to a meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama said, "I hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms what is at stake and exactly who is at risk." He added, "These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise" (Jennings, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 2/25).
According to the Times, the remarks are part of the Obama administration's broad effort to stir up public opposition to the mandated spending cuts (Los Angeles Times, 2/25). Obama is scheduled to make a campaign-style appearance in Newport News, Va., on Tuesday to highlight the adverse effects of the sequester.
GOP Criticizes Obama's 'Scare Tactics,' Press for Action
House Republican leaders on Monday accused President Obama of "trying to scare the American people," rather than seek a deal to avert the mandated spending cuts, the Washington Post reports.
During a news conference, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) said, "This is not time for a road-show president. This is time to look for someone who will lead and work with us, because we're willing to work with them to solve America's problems" (Fahrenthold/Nakamura, Washington Post, 2/25).
At the same news conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House would not act on any proposals to avert the mandated spending cuts, placing the responsibility on Obama and the Senate (O'Keefe, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 2/25). He said, "The House has acted twice. We shouldn't have to act a third time for the Senate to begin to do their work." He added, [I]f the president were serious [about averting the sequester], he'd sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems" (Berman/Herb, The Hill, 2/25).
CDC, NIH Warn Against Mandated Spending Cuts
Meanwhile, NIH Director Francis Collins during a press call on Monday said NIH is preparing for about $1.6 billion in cuts under the sequester, which could affect research into diseases such as cancer, influenza and Alzheimer's disease, the Washington Post's "Post Politics" reports.
If the cuts take effect, Collins said he expects hundreds of research grants to go unfunded and about 20,000 individuals to lose their jobs. He added that NIH will likely have to turn patients away from its clinical center, which allows individuals with few medical options to participate in clinical trials (Jennings, Washington Post, 2/25).
Similarly, CDC Director Tom Frieden said, "CDC's ability to protect the health of Americans would be severely compromised" if the sequester goes into effect. He noted that the spending reductions could cut funding "for literally thousands" of CDC-trained disease detectives and jeopardize the ability for state and local public health departments to fund positions and programs that respond to public health emergencies.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has estimated that nationwide CDC's expected $350 million budget reduction would mean:
- 540,000 fewer vaccines against diseases, including influenza, measles and whooping cough;
- 25,000 fewer breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income, high-risk women; and
- 400,000 fewer HIV tests (Norman, Politico, 2/25).
Lew Reiterates White House's Commitment To Protecting Entitlement Programs
In related news, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Monday released responses by Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew to his questions about cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
In the exchange, Lew said that the White House does not support raising the eligibility age for Medicare and is against changing the way Medicaid payments are calculated. According to "Healthwatch," the administration previously has supported both proposals (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/25).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.