KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Senate Embroiled In Partisan Struggle Over Student Loan Rates

At issue is how to pay for an extension of the current interest rate. Democrats propose increasing the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on high-earning stockholders of some privately owned corporations. Republicans would like to take funds from the health law's prevention fund.

The New York Times: Republicans In Senate Block Bill On Student Loan Rates
Senators said quiet negotiations had begun to resolve the impasse, but Democrats sought to raise the political pressure. … [T]he Republicans would not accept the Senate Democrats' proposal to pay for a one-year extension by changing a law that allows some wealthy taxpayers to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes by classifying their pay as dividends, not cash income. ... But the Democratic line of attack has been complicated by the House's actions. Shrugging off a veto threat, the House passed an extension of the subsidized rate last month, paid for with the preventive health care fund (Weisman, 5/8).

Los Angeles Times: Senate Republicans Block Proposal To Keep Student Loan Rates Low
Republicans also want to avoid raising the rate on college loans, but would pay for it by eliminating a public health fund in Obama's new healthcare law. The stalemate comes as both parties turn routine legislative votes into campaign debates (Mascaro, 5/8).

The Associated Press: GOP Blocks Senate Debate On Dem Student Loan Bill
Senate Republicans derailed a Democratic bill on Tuesday that would keep interest rates on federal college loans from doubling July 1 in an election-year battle aimed at the hearts — and votes — of millions of students and their parents. Republicans said they favor preventing the interest rate increase but blocked the Senate from debating the $6 billion measure because they oppose how Democrats would pay for it: Boosting Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on high-earning stockholders of some privately owned corporations (Fram, 5/8).

Roll Call: Political Upside To Stalled Student Loan Bill
Seeing a political opportunity, Senate Democrats will continue to criticize Senate Republicans on the floor this week for voting against their student loan bill before moving to the next item of business, which could be the Democrats' small-business tax cut package. … Republicans and business groups have said the Democrats' offset would make businesses less likely to hire because it would increase their tax burden. Senate Republicans prefer the House-passed bill, which is offset by eliminating a fund in the 2010 health care overhaul that covers prevention and public health (Sanchez, 5/9).

Meanwhile, in other Capitol Hill news -

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republican-Led House Panel Considers Higher 2013 Defense Spending Plan
The House bill challenges the administration's proposal on several important fronts, including a provision that would block planned increases in health care fees for certain military retirees. The administration argues that such increases are overdue and that the savings are needed to preserve spending in other areas (5/9).

Modern Healthcare: Budget Bill Riles Public Health Advocates
Public health advocates this week decried healthcare reductions in a bill from the House Budget Committee that aims to replace across-the-board cuts in federal programs scheduled for next January. In a 21-9 vote, the committee approved the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012, a 187-page GOP proposal to replace the so-called sequester, which would cut $109 billion in defense and nondefense government spending on Jan. 2, 2013 (Zigmond, 5/8).

And, in a rare report of legislative progress -

Politico: House Measure On FDA User Fees Set For Markup Thursday
The "must-pass" Food and Drug Administration user fee bill was sent to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday morning on a raft of blown kisses from Democrats and Republicans on the Health Subcommittee. After more than a year of work, at least 10 hearings related to user fees and "intense negotiations as recently as last weekend," Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee said its members praised their staffs and one another and passed the bill by unanimous voice vote (Norman, 5/8).

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