KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House GOP Budget Cuts Social Programs

As Congress returns after a weeklong recess, House Republicans will advance legislation to trim almost $380 billion from the federal budget, with social programs bearing the brunt of the cuts. On the Senate side, lawmakers will work on legislation to prevent the doubling of interest rates on college loans. The real issue continues to be how to pay for the fix: whether to use the health law's prevention trust fund or increase Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes for high earners.

The Associated Press: GOP Plan Boosts Pentagon, Cuts Social Programs
The Republicans who control the House are using cuts to food aid, health care and social services like Meals on Wheels to protect the Pentagon from a wave of budget cuts come January. The reductions, while controversial, are but a fraction of what Republicans called for in the broader, nonbinding budget plan they passed in March. Totaling a little more than $300 billion over a decade, the new cuts are aimed less at tackling $1 trillion-plus government deficits and more at preventing cuts to troop levels and military modernization (Taylor, 5/7).

Reuters: House Republicans Target Social Cuts To Shield Military
Republicans in the House of Representatives on Monday will fire their first shots of the next deficit-reduction battle, advancing legislation to cut nearly $380 billion largely from social programs while protecting defense spending. The cuts to food stamps, child tax credits and Medicaid healthcare for the poor, among others, are certain to stall in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. But they stake out Republicans' negotiating stance on replacing $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that are due to take effect in January (Lawder, 5/7).

The Associated Press: Senate Turns To Partisan Fight Over Student Loans
The Senate is the newest arena in the election-year face-off over federal student loans, and both sides are starting out by pounding away at each other. With Congress returning from a weeklong spring recess, the Senate plans to vote Tuesday on whether to start debating a Democratic plan to keep college loan interest rates for 7.4 million students from doubling on July 1. The $6 billion measure would be paid for by collecting more Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes from high-earning owners of some privately held corporations (Fram, 5/7).

In other news from Capitol Hill: the Food and Drug Administration user-fee bill -

Politico: User Fee Bill Appears Safe From GOP Poison Pills
A major Food and Drug Administration user fee bill is so "must-pass" that it's unlikely to get entangled in more GOP efforts to defund or repeal the 2010 health law, according to congressional staffers and industry sources pushing hard to get the bill through (Norman, 5/6).

Baltimore Sun: State Biotech Firms Hope Congress Will Act
A proposal to speed the approval of new prescription drugs has patient advocates and biotech firms — including many based in Maryland — hoping that Congress will deliver a rare dose of bipartisanship this year. Lawmakers are proposing a 6 percent increase in the fees that pharmaceutical firms pay the Food and Drug Administration to offset the cost of approving new drugs. If the measure is not signed into law by the end of September, the FDA would lose the ability to charge any fees and be forced to lay off 2,000 workers, significantly slowing review times (Fritze, 5/5).

Bloomberg: Drugmakers' Deal With Obama Said To Be Probed By House
Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. are being pulled into an expanding congressional investigation about the agreement drugmakers reached with the Obama administration to support the Democrats' overhaul of the U.S. health-care system, according to three people familiar with the talks. The probe began last year, with Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee seeking documents from an industry trade group, said the people, who aren’t authorized to speak publicly. When that group didn't cooperate, the panel decided to target Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker, along with Merck, Amgen Inc., Abbott Laboratories and AstraZeneca Plc, said one of the people (Armstrong, 5/4).

Lastly, news outlets report on how the post-election landscape might undermine the chances for compromise in Congress -  

Politico: Post-Election Compromise May Be More Difficult
By the end of last summer's grueling debt ceiling fight there was really only one thing Democrats and Republicans agreed on: They can't get anything big done until after the election. That might have been too optimistic. Many longtime Washington observers now think there's a good chance the dynamics driving the campaign may make a compromise even harder on taxes, spending and entitlements. Republicans will vow fealty to the party's anti-tax stance to sustain tea party support, while Democrats will rally their troops around Medicare, the health law's insurance coverage expansion, and other social programs (Feder and DoBias, 5/6).

MedPage Today: Election May Not Help Curb Health Costs, Wonks Say
Whether Republicans or Democrats win control in the November elections, nothing will happen that will bring healthcare costs under control without a willingness to deal, healthcare policy experts agreed. A post-election debt-reduction plan should have a bipartisan Medicare compromise such as the Ryan-Wyden plan, according to economist and former director of the Office of Management and Budget Alice Rivlin (Walker, 5/5). 

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Rivlin On Medicare And The Debt: 'We Know What To Do' 
Whoever ends up controlling the White House next year – Barack Obama or Mitt Romney – will have to make compromises if they are to solve the nation’s current budget and health care crises (Torres, 5/4).

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