Today’s Headlines – February 10, 2012

Happy Friday. Here are your end-of-the-week headlines:

The New York Times: Pessimism High, Republicans Warn Of Possible Expiration Of Payroll Tax Cuts
Congressional Republicans said Thursday that negotiations over extending a payroll tax cut were going so poorly that it was possible the tax break — along with added unemployment benefits — could expire at the end of the month. … The committee was formed last year after the two parties were unable to agree on how to pay for a full-year extension of the benefits, as well as a measure to prevent a cut in fees for doctors who accept Medicare (Steinhauer, 2/10).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Republicans Push To Wrap Up Payroll Tax Talks
Republicans expressed frustration on Thursday at the slow pace of negotiations over extending a tax break for workers that expires at the end of the month, accusing President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats of blocking agreement. … The tax cut package also includes extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and the cost of averting a 27 percent pay cut for doctors treating elderly Medicare patients. Election-year politics have complicated the search for a deal on how to pay for the tax cut package. The Republican plan calls for a premium increase for upper-income Medicare patients that has been rejected by Democrats, who are likely to use protecting the Medicare as a campaign issue (Smith, 2/9).

For more headlines …

Bloomberg: Payroll Deadline Nears As Democrats Focus On Jobless Benefits
Congressional Democrats made their first proposal on one of the more contentious elements of the payroll tax cut package with an offer to trim maximum U.S. unemployment benefits by six weeks. … Lawmakers are negotiating the benefits as part of a plan that would continue a payroll-tax cut for workers and prevent a drop in Medicare reimbursements to doctors. The proposal was the most substantial one offered by Democrats since a House-Senate negotiating panel began meeting Jan. 24. Republicans said the offer was inadequate (Sloan and Rowley, 2/10).

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Ducks Big Benefit Cuts
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal Monday will offer several measures to trim the federal deficit in the next 10 years. But it would leave largely unchanged the biggest drivers of future government spending: the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs that are expanding rapidly as the baby boom turns into a senior boom. Calling for major changes in the popular programs would be politically treacherous in an election year because of fierce opposition from seniors, who vote in large numbers (Paletta, 2/10).

The New York Times: Bishops Were Prepared For Battle Over Birth Control Coverage
When after much internal debate the Obama administration finally announced its decision to require religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to cover birth control in their insurance plans, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops were fully prepared for battle. Seven months earlier, they had started laying the groundwork for a major new campaign to combat what they saw as the growing threat to religious liberty, including the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the birth control mandate, issued on Jan. 20, was their Pearl Harbor. … The conflict puts not just the White House, but also the bishops to the test. Will their flock follow their lead? (Goodstein, 2/9).

Politico: Obama Birth Control Battle: Bishop Checkmates The President
It was no secret inside the West Wing that Bill Daley, a Catholic with deep connections to the church hierarchy, vehemently opposed the administration’s proposal to require church-run hospitals and universities to give their employees free contraception. … In early November … Daley set up a four-man Oval Office meeting for himself, Obama, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Vice President Joe Biden, who both shared the view that the policy would sink the president with Catholic voters (Thrush and Budoff Brown, 2/10).

The Wall Street Journal: Biden Backs Birth Control Compromise
Vice President Joe Biden said he is confident the administration will find a way to require almost all health-insurance plans to offer free contraception without forcing Catholic institutions to act against their religious beliefs. His comments Thursday to a Cincinnati radio station came as the White House tried to defuse a growing controversy. … A White House announcement of a compromise on the matter could come as early as Friday, two people familiar with the situation said (Meckler and Lee, 2/10).

NPR: Bishops Stand Strong Against Birth Control Mandate
The Obama administration has drawn fierce criticism over a new rule requiring religiously affiliated charities, universities and hospitals to provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Now, that mandate has created a stalemate between American Catholic bishops and the White House that shows few signs of easing. … The Rev. Tom Reese of Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center says there’s no reason for bishops to settle — they’re are winning the public relations battle right now (Bradley Hagerty, 2/9).

Politico: Dems Push White House On Birth Control Rule
The White House on Thursday faced mounting pressure from Senate Democrats to amend its requirements that religious employers include contraceptives in their health insurance plans, as Republicans tried to force votes on the issue. Advocacy groups on both sides of the debate turned up the rhetoric, potentially hurting the chances of finding a compromise that both sides can live with. Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Claire McCaskill of Missouri on Thursday became the latest Democrats to indicate they want to see the administration go back to the negotiating table (Haberkorn, 2/9).

NPR: Rules Requiring Contraceptive Coverage Have Been In Force For Years
There’s been no let-up in the debate about the Obama administration’s rule requiring most employers to provide prescription birth control to their workers without additional cost. Here’s the rub: The only truly novel part of the plan is the “no cost” bit. The rule would mean, for the first time, that women won’t have to pay a deductible or co-payment to get prescription contraceptives. In fact, employers have pretty much been required to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their health plans since December 2000 (Rovner, 2/10).

NPR: Catholics Split Over Obama Contraceptive Order
The conflict between the Catholic Bishops and the White House over contraceptive coverage has American Catholics choosing sides. Catholics narrowly support the White House position in polls. There are potential political consequences: In presidential elections, Catholics are swing voters. They supported Al Gore in 2000, President George W. Bush in ’04 and President Obama in ’08 (Gonyea, 2/10).

The Associated Press/Boston Globe: They’re Back: Social Issues Overtake US Politics
All of a sudden, abortion, contraception and gay marriage are at the center of American political discourse, with the struggling — though improving — economy pushed to the background. Social issues don’t typically dominate the discussion in shaky economies. But they do raise emotions important to factors like voter turnout. And they can be key tools for political candidates clamoring for attention, campaign cash or just a change of subject in an election year (Kellman, 2/10).

Los Angeles Times: New Rules For Health Plans Require Clear Summaries Of Benefits
Starting this fall, insurers and employers that offer health coverage will have to provide a six-page form that summarizes basic plan information, such as deductibles and co-pays, as well as costs for using in-network and out-of-network medical services (Levey, 2/10).

The Wall Street Journal: New Consumer Insurance Forms To Start In September
The Obama administration released finalized new rules for how health insurers describe what their plans cover Thursday, and told insurers that they have until September to prepare the documents for the new open enrollment season. … The requirement, part of the health care overhaul law, is popular with consumers who hope they will be able to cut through pages of complicated small print and understand their coverage. But employers and insurers say that changing the way they explain insurance could be expensive and lead to more confusion (Radnofsky, 2/9).

Los Angeles Times: Inmate Advocates Question State’s Commitment To Prison Healthcare
The judge who once said California’s dismal prison medical care constituted cruel and unusual punishment now says federal control could soon end. … But advocates for inmates and some medical officials question whether the system will continue to improve without federal oversight (Megerian, 2/10).

Chicago Tribune: Quinn To Obama: Illinois Moving Ahead On Medicaid Fraud Crackdown
As President Barack Obama presses forward with his signature health care law, his fellow Illinois Democrats running state government have waited more than a year to win federal approval for a new plan to fight fraud in the health program for 2.7 million of the state’s poorest residents. Facing increasing Republican pressure to put reforms in place, this week Quinn’s team told the Obama administration that Illinois will wait no longer (Long and Groeninger, 2/9).

The Wall Street Journal: New Attack on Alzheimer’s
A cancer drug quickly and dramatically improved brain function and social ability and restored the sense of smell in mice bred with a form of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting a new way to tackle the illness in people (Naik, 2/10).