KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Impasse On Payroll Tax Cut Extension Leaves ‘Doc Fix’ In Flux

A group of House Republicans is taking a hard line against the short-term measure passed by the Senate — creating anxiety across Capitol Hill and causing uncertainty about the future of the "doc fix."

The New York Times: House Set To Vote Down Payroll Tax Cut Extension
A core group of conservative House members … have balked all year at short-term spending agreements, including proposed legislation to raise the debt ceiling and bills to increase disaster funding. It remained far from clear Monday night how, or whether, the tax cuts would be extended for 160 million workers and millions of unemployed Americans would continue to get jobless benefits next year. … The impasse began over the weekend when House Republicans said they would reject the Senate measure, which passed 89 to 10. It would, for two months, extend the payroll tax cut, continue unemployment benefits and prevent a cut in fees paid to doctors who accept Medicare, and would allow lawmakers and the White House time to work out their differences on how to pay for a yearlong extension (Steinhauer and Pear, 12/19).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Postpones Vote To Extend Payroll Tax Cut
Fellow Republicans are increasingly anxious with their House colleagues' position — especially after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the compromise package in a rare Saturday vote. Many Americans are strapped for cash this holiday season, and the package included the tax break as well as an extension of unemployment benefits that also expire at the end of the year and prevents a pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/19).

The Washington Post: House Republicans Intent On Killing Senate Payroll Tax Cut Deal
For the first time in a month of partisan sparring over the tax break, neither party appeared confident that the issue would be resolved, averting a January tax increase for 160 million American workers. … President Obama has made extending the expiring one-year payroll tax holiday his year-end priority. … If the tax holiday is not extended, payroll taxes will jump from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent in January, costing the average family $1,000 next year. The Senate package also includes provisions that would extend jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans and avert a cut in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients (Helderman, Kane and Sonmez, 12/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Deadlock Over Tax Cut
The issue split the GOP as House opposition to the bill — fueled by tea-party-backed freshmen — drew criticism even from fellow Republicans in the Senate. Those critics worried their party would be blamed if the fight winds up cutting off benefits and increasing taxes at the start of an election year amid a weak economy (Hook, 12/20).

The Associated Press: House GOP To Reject Stopgap Payroll Tax Cut
With the Senate adjourned for the holidays, House Republicans are moving to shelve a bipartisan two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that cleared the Senate over the weekend and are demanding instead that their fellow lawmakers return to the Capitol for negotiations. ... The Senate's short-term, lowest-common-denominator approach would renew a 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security payroll tax, plus jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and would prevent a huge cut in Medicare payments to doctors (Taylor, 12/20).

Reuters: House Republicans Push For New Payroll Tax Cut Talks
The Republican-led House of Representatives will set the stage on Tuesday for a showdown with Senate Democrats over a payroll tax cut extension that is becoming a proxy for 2012 election year battles. ... Not only would workers' taxes go up in a couple weeks if the two sides cannot find a quick compromise. About 2.2 million people who have suffered long-term unemployment will see benefit checks cut off by the middle of February. And doctors treating elderly Medicare patients also will see their reimbursements cut (Cowan and Smith, 12/19).

Modern Healthcare: In Congressional Tug-Of-War, Doc-Pay Fix Still In Flux
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday said the nation's doctors don't need more uncertainty, but that's just what physicians are getting from Congress. Later today, the House will vote to accept or a reject a Senate-amended version of a payroll tax cut bill that the lower chamber passed last week. For the nation's health care providers, the legislation is significant for including measures that affect Medicare payments to physicians, as well as several extensions to health care provisions that are set to expire by year's end (Zigmond, 12/19).

CQ HealthBeat: Doc Fix Uncertain Amid Boehner-Reid Impasse On Payroll Measure
House Speaker John A. Boehner on Monday predicted that the House will reject a Senate-approved two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax in a vote scheduled for Monday evening. That creates an apparent impasse with Senate Democratic leaders that if unresolved could result in a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors Jan. 1. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a Monday morning press briefing that lawmakers should stay in town and resolve differences between the two chambers in a formal House-Senate conference committee (Reichard, 12/19).

Politico Pro: House Delay Prolongs Fight Over SGR
House Republican leaders said late Monday that they would vote Tuesday morning to appoint conferees to settle the difference between the House and Senate's payroll tax relief bills, both of which include Sustainable Growth Rate patches. The House called off a late-night vote in which Republicans had been determined to shoot down the Senate's two-month bill — a politically risky stand for which they were already getting hammered by Democrats and even a few Senate Republicans. Now, the House is not expected to actually vote up or down on the Senate bill. Instead, the House will just vote to instruct the conferees (Haberkorn and DoBias, 12/19).

Politico Pro: Politics Stymie SGR Policy Lobbyists
House Republican opposition to the Senate's stopgap "doc fix" package has put the health care lobby in a tough spot. After lobbying hard for a permanent repeal of Medicare's Sustainable Growth Rate — which in theory most of Congress agrees with — now health groups find themselves pushing for a one- or two-year patch. And it's not clear that Congress will manage to agree on even a two-month punt before the clock runs out. With a 27 percent Medicare physician pay cut scheduled for Jan. 1 if Congress doesn't act, CMS said Monday it would instruct its claims administrators to hold off processing claims for the first 10 business days of January to allow more time to end the impasse (DoBias, 12/19).

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