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Today’s Headlines – Nov. 22, 2011

Good morning!

The Washington Post: Super Committee Announces Failure In Effort To Tame Debt A special congressional committee created to try to curb the national debt abandoned its work and conceded failure Monday. … Although Republicans offered to raise taxes by $300 billion over the next decade, they insisted on conditions that all but guaranteed that the wealthy would not be hit hard. And Democrats refused to agree to deep cuts in spending on health care for the poor and the elderly unless the rich were forced to make greater sacrifices (Montgomery and Kane, 11/21).

The New York Times: Panel Fails To Reach Deal On Plan For Deficit Reduction The president noted pointedly after the talks failed that he had sent Congress his proposal to trim the deficit. “It’s a plan that would reduce the deficit by an additional $3 trillion, by cutting spending, slowing the growth of Medicare and Medicaid and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.” Republicans, he said, “simply will not budge” from their refusal to consider tax increases on the wealthy. “That refusal continues to be the main stumbling block that has prevented Congress from reaching an agreement to reduce our deficit” (Steinhauer, Cooper and Pear, 11/21).

For more headlines …

The New York Times: For Deficit Panel, Failure Cuts Two Ways By law, the panel’s failure triggers new caps on spending, cutting $1.2 trillion from the military, education, health care and other priorities over 10 years beginning next fall. The combined impact of higher tax rates and less spending would reverse the growth of annual deficits beginning in 2013, reducing by more than half the current $1.3 trillion gap between annual revenue and spending (Appelbaum and Lowrey, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: Super Committee Fails To Agree On Deficit-Reduction Plan Republicans refused to substantially raise taxes and wanted to cut federal deficits largely by reducing spending on Medicare and other domestic programs. Democrats wanted a more equal balance of new taxes and spending cuts — a level of taxation the GOP could not accept (Mascaro, 11/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Panel Folds Its Tent Congress’s special deficit-cutting committee bowed to reality Monday and called it quits, with both sides having concluded it was easier to swallow failure than any of the possible compromise deals offered. Because the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction couldn’t come to an agreement, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts are on track to begin in 2013. … That clears the way for a yearlong legislative battle over whether to block those cuts or to replace them with another broad deficit-reduction plan (Hook and Bendavid, 11/22).

USA Today: Panel’s Inability To Cut Debt Deal Reflects Divide For now, the panel’s inability to reach a deal leaves Congress with a range of unfinished budget items that could have been part of a larger bargain over federal taxes and spending. Social Security payroll tax cuts expire at the end of the year, meaning taxes could go up nearly $1,000 annually for someone who makes $50,000. More than 1 million unemployed workers could lose their jobless benefits beginning in January, when those benefits are scheduled to expire. Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors will be cut 27% unless Congress steps in by the end of the year, leaving many seniors without a doctor. And Congress has three weeks to pass nine spending bills to keep most of the federal government operating (Korte, 11/22).

Politico: Supercommitee’s Failure: Obama Blames GOP Blaming Republicans for the supercommittee’s failure to craft a debt-cutting plan, President Barack Obama on Monday warned that he won’t allow Congress to wriggle out of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts it agreed to make if the 12-member panel failed to reach agreement (Gerstein, 11/21).

Politico: The End Of The Road On Health Entitlements? It would be easy to conclude that the supercommittee’s failure means that the big, expensive health care entitlement programs — Medicare and Medicaid — are untouchable. It would also be wrong. The real lesson of the supercommittee’s collapse is that the political elements have to line up just right to put the brakes on Medicare and Medicaid spending. It can be done, budget and health care analysts say (Nather, 11/22).

Politico: Recession One Way To Curb Health Costs The economic slump has put the brakes on health spending, which may bolster a conservative truism: When consumers become more sensitive to the cost of health care, they cut back. Or maybe it supports a progressive one: Forcing consumers to have more “skin in the game” means they will cut back on needed care, not just elective or unnecessary care. And neither side can tell for sure yet whether people have changed spending patterns for good or just postponed seeing doctors or getting tests or treatment until the economy improves or they get too sick to wait any longer (Feder, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Calls On Health Insurer To Reduce Rate Hike The Obama administration called on a health insurance company to reduce a planned rate increase in Pennsylvania, using a tool in the new healthcare law for the first time to pressure insurers to restrain rising premiums (Levey, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: More U.S. Firms Using High-Deductible Insurance Plans U.S. employers, struggling to contain rising healthcare costs, are expanding their use of high-deductible insurance plans, which help reduce monthly insurance premiums by shifting a greater share of medical expenses to workers, a new survey shows (Helfand, 11/22).

The Washington Post: AIDS Deaths And New Infections Continue To Fall In Most Parts Of The World The number of people dying of AIDS around the world declined last year for the third year in a row, at the same time that the fraction of people getting treatment for the infection reached almost 50 percent (Brown, 11/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Doctor Revolt Shakes Disability Program Earlier this year, senior managers at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, frustrated by a growing backlog of applications for federal disability benefits, called meetings with 140 of the agency’s doctors. The message was blunt: The number of people seeking benefits had soared. Doctors had to work faster to move cases. Instead of earning $90 an hour, as they had previously, they would receive about $80 per case—a pay cut for many cases which can take 60 to 90 minutes to review—unless the doctors worked faster. … Some doctors … quit following the changes. Others were fired. In all, 45 of the 140 left within months, the agency said (Paletta, 11/22).

The New York Times: Low-Tax Cigarettes, Made in Store, Draw City Lawsuit The city filed suit last week against a “roll your own” cigarette shop in Chinatown and a related one on Staten Island, where a pack of cigarettes can cost less than $5, because the stores are not collecting cigarette taxes. The stores, both called Island Smokes, do not sell packs of Marlboros and Newports. Instead, they sell loose tobacco and cigarette papers, and have machines that let customers fabricate their own cigarettes (Roberts, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: Retired Public Workers Can Count On Promised Benefits, Court Says Health benefits for government retirees may not be eliminated if state and local governments had clearly promised workers those benefits, the California Supreme Court ruled in an Orange County case Monday (Dolan, 11/21).

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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