KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

McConnell, Biden Continue Efforts To Avert ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Crisis

The Washington Post: Biden, McConnell Continue 'Cliff' Talks As Clock Winds Down
Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continued urgent talks Monday over a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” after Democrats offered several significant concessions on taxes, including a proposal to raise rates only on earnings over $450,000 a year. ... The two sides were also sharply at odds over automatic spending cuts set to decimate budgets at the Pentagon and other federal agencies next month. Democrats were seeking to delay the cuts, known as the “sequester,” until 2015, without identifying other savings to compensate. They were also pressing to extend unemployment benefits, farm subsidies and Medicare payments to doctors, again without offsetting cuts as Republicans demand (Montgomery and Kane, 12/31). 

Politico: Fiscal Cliff: Major Progress Toward Deal
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden engaged in furious overnight negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff and made major progress toward a year-end tax deal, giving sudden hope to high-stakes talks that had been on the brink of collapse, according to sources familiar with the discussion (Bresnahan, Raju and Sherman, 12/31).

Los Angeles Times: Congress Edges Closer To 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal But Can't Close iIt
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill inched toward a compromise to avert part of the so-called fiscal cliff but remained unable to close a deal as each side struggled with internal tensions as well as the remaining gap between them. ... Other sticking points remain over adjustments to the rates Medicare pays doctors and fixing the tax code to protect middle-income Americans from the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to prevent tax avoidance by the wealthy. Both provisions involve laws that are not indexed for inflation and have required annual adjustments by Congress (Mascaro and Memoli, 12/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Cliff's Edge Draws Close
As aides to Messrs. Reid and McConnell negotiated through the weekend, the focus was on a narrow bill that would likely fall far short of the lofty deficit-reduction goals congressional leaders and Mr. Obama had initially pursued. White House officials believe raising tax rates on income above $250,000, combined with changes in capital-gains, dividend, and estate-tax rules, would raise roughly $950 billion over 10 years. ... The other items being discussed as part of the slimmed-down package would cost the government. One would extend unemployment benefits for one year, at a cost of roughly $30 billion. Another would prevent Medicare payments to doctors from being cut, at a cost of $10 billion, according to estimates (Hook and Hughes, 12/31). 

The New York Times: Day of Seesaw Talks Produces No Accord On Fiscal Crisis
Weeks of negotiations between President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner inched toward a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, while locking in trillions of dollars in deficit reduction over 10 years and starting an effort to overhaul the tax code and entitlement programs like Medicare. But earlier this month, Mr. Boehner walked away from those talks (Weisman, 12/31).

Earlier news reports examined what might happen if a deal is not reached.

The Washington Post: With No 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal In Sight, Sequestration Seems All But Certain
But even if they reach a stripped-down agreement, aides in both parties have said it would be unlikely to address the other part of the "fiscal cliff," an automatic $110 billion reduction in government spending, split evenly between military and domestic programs, that is scheduled to take effect the next day. ... With the exception of a few programs specifically spared by Congress — including Medicaid, Medicare benefits and food stamps — every government account would be sliced by the almost same amount. The White House has said that all domestic programs that were not specifically shielded would face an 8.2 percent cut next year. ... Air traffic controllers, courthouse security guards, National Institutes of Health cancer researchers — all would face the same crunch (Helderman, 12/30). 

The Wall Street Journal: Over The Cliff, Spending Cuts Loom
In the mad scramble by political leaders to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, Congress and the White House are focusing most of their attention on preventing tax rates from increasing on most workers, extending emergency unemployment benefits to roughly two million Americans and on preventing deep cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. But another high priority, which appears thornier to resolve, is the $110 billion in annual spending cuts that were put in place last year and are set to begin on Jan. 2, 2013, and continue for eight more years (Paletta, 12/30). 

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Puts Pressure On GOP In Cliff Talks
President Barack Obama sought to increase pressure on Congressional Republicans by attempting to hold them responsible if talks to prevent the so-called fiscal cliff collapse. Mr. Obama, in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," which was taped Saturday, cast himself as a reasonable broker prepared to make concessions, while depicting GOP leaders as unwilling to let taxes rise on the wealthiest Americans. Many in the GOP make the opposite case, blaming the budget impasse on Democrats, who are blocking any change to the nation's costly entitlement programs (Nicholas, 12/30).

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