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Today’s Headlines – December 23, 2011

We won’t publish KHN’s First Edition the week of December 26, but we’ll be back in action on January 3. Happy holidays!

Here are your morning headlines:

The New York Times: House G.O.P. Leaders Agree To Extension Of Payroll Tax Cut
Under a deal reached between House and Senate leaders, the House will now approve as early as Friday the two-month extension of a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits approved by the Senate last Saturday, and the Senate will appoint members of a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate legislation to extend both benefits through 2012. ,,, In addition, under the agreement, Medicare will continue paying doctors at current rates for two months, averting a 27 percent cut that would otherwise occur on Jan. 1 (Steinhauer, 12/22).

The Washington Post: House GOP Agrees To 2-Month Extension Of Payroll Tax Cut
The agreement represented a remarkable capitulation on the part of House Republicans, who had two days earlier rejected such a deal with Democrats as the kind of half-measure that their new majority was elected to thwart. … The two-month arrangement had been crafted by (Sen. Mitch) McConnell and (Sen. Harry) Reid after talks fell apart in the Senate over how to pay for a $200 billion year-long package. Republicans had sought to impose higher Medicare premiums on upper-income senior citizens while Democrats wanted to close tax loopholes for the wealthy. They will return to that impasse in January (Helderman, 12/22).

For more headlines …

The Wall Street Journal: Agreement Reached To Extend Tax Break
(T)he agreement would extend federal benefits for the long-term unemployed and continue current Medicare payment rates for doctors, which are slated to decline at year’s end. That’s essentially the same package negotiated by the Democratic-controlled Senate that Mr. Boehner’s House had rejected earlier this week. One difference in the new agreement is the elimination of a Senate-crafted provision businesses believed would be burdensome (Hook and Meckler, 12/23).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Leaders Yield On Payroll Tax
House Republican leaders, bowing to pressure from both the White House and their Senate colleagues, agreed to a stopgap measure that will forestall a tax increase on American workers that was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The deal is expected to come to a vote Friday under procedures that would require all members in both chambers to agree (Mascaro and Nicholas, 12/22).

USA Today: House Republicans Agree To Two-Month Payroll Tax Patch
The short-term deal extends the current payroll tax rate at 4.2% from 6.2% and continues to provide unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. It also includes a Medicare “doc fix” that will prevent a drop in payments to doctors who treat seniors, and it extends and funds the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that provides welfare benefits to 4.6 million Americans (Davis, 12/22).

Politico: The Humbling Of The House GOP
At no small personal political risk, (House Speaker John) Boehner laid down the law to his unruly caucus, substituting his own judgment for their collective wisdom in cutting a very slightly altered deal with President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Budoff Brown and Allen, 12/23).

The Washington Post: Medicare Spending Growth Rising Slower But Enrollment Will Rise
But in early 2010, the number crunchers at Medicare headquarters in Baltimore saw something surprising: a sharp drop in the volume of doctor visits and other outpatient services. Instead of growing at the usual 4 percent a year, the number of claims was suddenly climbing by less than 2 percent.  … Medicare spending per person is rising more slowly than spending in the private health sector. And, because of the cuts that were part of last year’s Affordable Care Act, it is expected to mirror overall growth in the economy for much of the next decade, staying well below targets set by Congress (Montgomery, 12/22).

The New York Times: In Treating Disabled, Potent Drugs And Few Rules
Tens of thousands of powerful pills created to treat serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia are given to developmentally disabled people in the care of New York State every day. But a review by The Times of previously unreleased records, as well as interviews with state employees, clinicians, family members and outside experts, reveals that the psychotropic medications, which alter the brain’s chemistry, are often dispensed sloppily, without rigorous or regular review, by general practitioners with little expertise in the area (Hakim, 12/22).

The New York Times: Fatigue Syndrome Study Is Retracted By Journal
The journal Science on Thursday fully retracted a controversial study that had linked a mouse leukemia retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome, a disabling illness affecting an estimated one million people in the United States. Some data in the study were retracted in September when the Cleveland Clinic, which participated in the initial research, reported that its findings had resulted from laboratory contamination. The notice posted by Science on Thursday cited additional concerns about the research, although the wording made it clear that not all the original authors agreed to the retraction (Tuller, 12/22).

The Washington Post: Study Linking Virus To Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Retracted Amid Controversy
A two-year scientific controversy all but ended Thursday when the prestigious journal Science retracted a study linking a strange virus to chronic fatigue syndrome, a sometimes-debilitating disorder with no known cause. The journal’s editors “lost confidence” in the study after at least a dozen attempts to replicate the finding failed, Editor in Chief Bruce Alberts wrote in a retraction notice to be published Friday (Vastag, 12/22).

The New York Times: Republican Presidential Candidates Embrace Granting Legal Rights To Human Embryos
The “personhood amendment,” granting legal rights to human embryos, might have seemed to be a political nonstarter after voters in Mississippi, arguably the most conservative and anti-abortion state in the nation, rejected such a proposal last month. But the idea has not faded in the Republican primaries. … This month, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum have all signed a pledge to support “personhood” at conception that was crafted by Personhood USA, a Colorado group that has continued to push the idea in several states (Eckholm, 12/22).

The New York Times: Nurses Plan Walkout At St. Luke’s-Roosevelt
Nurses at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital will go on strike on Jan. 3 unless last-ditch negotiations succeed in bridging a divide over wages, according to leaders in the New York State Nurses Association, which issued a 10-day strike warning early Thursday on behalf of 1,300 registered nurses at the hospital (Bernstein, 12/22).

Los Angeles Times: Nurses Stage 1-Day Strike At 2 Long Beach Hospitals
Hundreds of nurses from Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital staged a one-day strike Thursday over failed contract negotiations and staffing issues (Vives, 12/23).