Still On The Capitol Hill To-Do List: Payroll Tax Holiday Extension, Medicare Doc Fix
Reuters terms the tasks "issues affecting Americans' pocketbook." The outstanding questions include how to pay for the payroll tax break extension — could Medicare offer some ideas? Also, could the doc fix fight spill over into January? One area where there appears to finally be a truce, though, is the fight over Tricare, the health insurance plan for the military. Meanwhile, Politico looks ahead to health policy issues in 2012.
Reuters: Factbox: The U.S. Congress's Holiday To-Do List
The U.S. Congress is rushing to complete work on several issues affecting Americans' pocketbooks before lawmakers adjourn for the year. ... Congress faces another Dec. 31 deadline for deciding whether to prevent a 27 percent pay cut for Medicare reimbursements to doctors. Lawmakers repeatedly have avoided tackling a long-term fix for the reimbursement formula for Medicare, the increasingly expensive U.S. health program for those age 65 and older (Ferraro, 12/5).
The Wall Street Journal: GOP Rejects Democrats' New Payroll-Tax Bill
Despite criticism from rank-and-file conservatives, House Republican leaders are trying to craft a $200 billion plan that also would extend jobless benefits for long-term unemployed beyond Dec. 31. In addition, the GOP bill would preserve current Medicare payments to doctors by renewing a law that has blocked cuts from taking place. The biggest difference between the parties, however, is in how they propose to offset the cost of those extensions. Republicans want to extend a current federal employee pay freeze, and possibly require upper-income people to pay more for Medicare (Hook, 12/6).
Los Angeles Times: Payroll Tax Debate Dominates Capitol Hill Agenda This Week
Both sides are angling for the political advantage as the deadline looms for approving the tax break extension. Two attempts to pass the payroll holiday last week drew widespread resistance from the GOP. Republicans in the Senate shot down a proposal to pay for an enhanced tax break with a surtax on those earning beyond $1 million a year. The GOP also shot down the Republican proposal to pay for the tax break with budget cuts and by asking the wealthy to pay more for Medicare (Mascaro, 12/5).
Politico Pro: House GOP Pushes Medicare Means Testing
When House Republicans put together a $200 billion year-end package that not only extends several tax breaks but also puts a two-year hold on Medicare provider pay cuts, they consulted a list of about a dozen potential offsets that could be used to pay for it. They just happened to pick one of the most explosive ones. As part of the year-end push, House GOP leaders plan to use means testing in Medicare as a way to raise some of the roughly $38 billion it would cost to hold physician payments steady over the next 24 months. If Congress doesn't act, Medicare reimbursements will get chopped by 27 percent next month (DoBias, 12/6).
Politico Pro: Could SGR Spill Into 2012?
Health care lobbyists are concerned that differences over the size, scope and offsets for dueling House and Senate catch-all tax bills could push the "doc fix" and a host of other Medicare extenders into next year. The $200 billion House GOP bill to extend the payroll tax break includes a two-year Medicare payment patch, while the $180 billion Senate proposal, which Majority Leader Harry Reid expects to detail later Monday, will not, according to a Reid aide (DoBias, 12/5).
The Baltimore Sun: Anxious Marylanders Wait To See If Congress Will Act
Failure of the congressional super committee to strike a deal on deficit reduction has left lawmakers scrambling to address a half-dozen bills of major importance to Marylanders, from extending tax breaks to paying Medicare doctors to securing federal money for roads near military bases. Before the end of the month, a bitterly divided Congress must decide whether to keep paying unemployment benefits that 14,300 out-of-work Maryland residents collect and whether to continue a payroll tax cut received by 2.6 million wage earners in the state. Funding for the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health is up in the air (Fritze, 12/4).
The Washington Post: Battle Over Military Health-Care Premiums Slows – For Now
Now that the sweeping defense authorization bill for 2012 has passed the Senate and House, the fight over Tricare, the health insurance plan for the military, has reached a truce — for the moment. House and Senate negotiators are working out differences in the defense authorization bill before it goes to President Obama, but Tricare is not among the contested issues (Rein, 12/5).
Politico: 2011 Policy Report Card: Health Care Forecast
With a presidential election and a Supreme Court ruling, 2012 will be the year that could determine whether the health reform law moves forward, is stripped of big pieces or gets (mostly) shut down. The elections will set the course for the law — if the Supreme Court doesn't strike down the individual mandate before then. Health and Human Services and the states will move ahead — some of the states, anyway — and Congress will be in a holding pattern (Kenen and Nather, 12/5).