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Today’s Headlines – December 16, 2011

Good morning and happy Friday! Here are your morning headlines.

The Washington Post: Medicare’s ‘SGR’ Formula Has Snowballed To Budget-Busting Juggernaut
It was adopted by Congress in 1997 almost as an afterthought — a new formula to keep Medicare spending on doctors from growing faster than the economy as a whole. But like a snowball that swells in size as it rolls down a mountain, the rate-setting formula has transformed into a budget-busting juggernaut that will hit doctors with a 27.4 percent pay cut for their Medicare patients in January unless legislators step in (Aizenman, 12/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House To Vote To Avert Shutdown While Payroll Tax Cut Talks Continue
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday night that he was still optimistic that bipartisan talks on yearlong extensions of the Social Security payroll tax cut and unemployment coverage would succeed. But as a “Plan B,” he said, they were working on a two-month extension as well, which would also prevent cuts in Medicare reimbursements for doctors during that period (12/16).

For more headlines …

The New York Times: Lawmakers Agree On Spending Bill, Avoiding Shutdown
While both sides have spent much of the week trying to outmaneuver one another, Thursday seemed to presage the second stage of what has become a familiar pattern in the 112th Congress — the ratcheting back of Stage 1, which is recriminations via news conference — on the road to Stage 3: a final, grudging compromise. At a minimum, the Senate, which has until Dec. 31 to act on the payroll tax before it reverts to a higher level, will seek a two-month stopgap extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance and Medicare payment rates for doctors, at a cost of an estimated $40 billion. Senate leaders were still hoping to reach a deal on a longer-term plan (Steinhauer and Pear, 12/15).

Los Angeles Times:  Congress Reaches Tentative Deal To Avoid Government Shutdown
Weary of one last round of brinkmanship before the holidays, Congress reached a tentative deal late Thursday on a $1-trillion spending bill that would avert a government shutdown as both parties continued to discuss extending President Obama’s payroll tax break. … Talks continued behind closed doors into the evening as both Republicans and Democrats sought a consensus on how to pay for the tax cut. … As Republicans resisted the surtax on wealthier Americans, Democrats were forced to consider GOP options for offsetting the cost of the $200-billion package. Some spending cuts may be acceptable, but others, such as reducing unemployment benefits or charging upper-income seniors more for Medicare, face Democratic resistance.  Negotiators were considering a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday, which is set to expire Dec. 31  (Mascaro, 12/15).

The Washington Post: Congressional Leaders Reach Spending Deal To Avoid Government Shutdown
Congressional negotiators signed off Thursday evening on a $1 trillion spending agreement for 2012 for federal agencies, barely 27 hours before a deadline that could have led to a government shutdown. After dropping minor policy prescriptions that President Obama opposed, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees gave final approval to the plan after a four-day standoff related to Obama’s demands to extend the payroll tax holiday for 160 million workers (Kane and Helderman, 12/15).

NPR: Wyden-Ryan Medicare Plan Shakes Up Politics More Than Policy
There’s not much that’s new in the Medicare proposal just unveiled by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) So why is it getting so much attention? One word. No, not plastics. Politics! (Rovner, 12/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House Blasts New Medicare Plan By GOP’s Paul Ryan And Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden
White House spokesmen Thursday blasted a new bipartisan plan to overhaul Medicare, saying it would undermine the health care program for seniors and disabled people, leaving it to “wither on the vine” (12/15).

The New York Times: Gingrich Push On Health Care Appears To Be At Odds With GOP
As Mr. Gingrich runs for president, he is working to appeal to Republican primary voters suspicious of big-government activism, especially in the realm of health care. But interviews and a review of records show how active Mr. Gingrich has been in promoting a series of recent programs that have given the government a bigger hand in the delivery of health care, and at the same time benefited his clients (Rutenberg and McIntire, 12/16).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: AP-GfK Poll: Majority Says Obama Deserves To Be Voted Out Of Office
Heading into his re-election campaign, the president faces a conflicted public that does not support his steering of the economy, the most dominant issue for Americans, or his reforms to health care, one of his signature accomplishments, yet are grappling with whether to replace him with Republican contenders Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich (12/16).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Instating Labor Rules For Home-Care Aides
President Obama circumvented Congress and moved Thursday to require that home-care aides be paid minimum wage and overtime, giving the fast-growing workforce long-sought assistance. Home-care workers, who now number close to 2 million people, have been exempted from federal labor law since 1974 (Levey, 12/15).

The New York Times: Wage Protection For Home Care Workers
The Obama administration proposed regulations on Thursday to give the nation’s nearly two million home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections. Those workers have long been exempted from coverage (Greenhouse, 12/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Administration Seeks To Extend Federal Wage, Hour Laws To Home Health-Care Workers
The move would boost living standards for nearly 2 million employees who help the elderly and disabled with daily tasks such as taking medication, caring for wounds or preparing meals. But some health service companies warned that higher pay could also mean higher costs for clients who can least afford it (12/15).

The New York Times: Walkouts By Nurses Loom As Hospitals Seek To Cut Costs
The specter of nursing strikes is looming on both coasts, as newly empowered nurses’ unions confront hospitals pressed to cut costs amid changes in health care financing (Bernstein, 12/15).