Democratic leaders on Wednesday said they are not interested in passing a standalone bill to delay scheduled Medicare reimbursement cuts for physicians, as some Republicans have suggested, The Hill reports. Instead, they urged House Republicans to pass a Senate-approved two-month extension of a payroll tax break that includes a two-month delay to the Medicare cuts (Bolton, The Hill, 12/21).
The Senate on Saturday voted 89-10 to approve a two-month version of a House-approved payroll tax break and Medicare "doc fix" measure (HR 3630). Senate leaders initially assumed that the bill would pass easily in the House because it had been endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and included a provision related to a controversial oil pipeline that Republicans favor.
Instead, the House rejected the short-term measure and on Tuesday voted 229-193 to set up a conference committee to work out differences with the Senate on the proposal. However, Senate members adjourned for recess after Saturday's vote and are not expected to return until January. Reid on Monday said Senate Democrats would not take part in further negotiations until the House passes the short-term measure. Meanwhile, most House members also left town for recess after Boehner selected lawmakers for the conference committee.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), an obstetrician and co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus, said House leaders should not accept any proposal without a two-year doc fix, but he acknowledged that if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement, they might consider a standalone bill to address the issue during the next session (California Healthline, 12/21).
Democratic Senator Seeks House Action
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats want to see a doc fix measure that holds off cuts for at least a year. However, he said, the "easiest way to do this is for the House to come back" and pass the Senate's two-month package before resuming negotiations for a long-term bill. He noted that several House Republicans have called on their colleagues to pass the short-term measure (Bolton, The Hill, 12/21).
Obama Calls Boehner
On Wednesday, President Obama called House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and told him that passing the two-month package is the "only option" to prevent the payroll tax hike and Medicare pay cuts. The president told Boehner that he is committed to working with lawmakers next year on a longer fix for the payroll tax break and Medicare issues. Boehner rebuffed Obama and urged him to pressure Senate Democrats to appoint a conference committee so that the two chambers can work out a longer-term deal immediately (Parnes, The Hill, 12/21).
Conference Committee Before Year's End Unlikely
CNN reported several reasons why a conference committee will not work to forge a compromise between the House and Senate on the payroll tax break and doc fix, including:
The process of establishing the committee includes procedural steps that can last for 10 days, leaving lawmakers no time to negotiate before the new year;
Conference committee rules restrict negotiations to the specific differences between the House and Senate proposals, blocking discussion of new measures that could entice agreement; and
The final agreement cannot include measures that were not part of legislation from either chamber, again discouraging negotiation of potentially prolific ideas (Cohen, CNN, 12/21).
Gingrich, Romney React to Payroll Debate
Former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (Ga.) said the House GOP should give up and vote to pass the Senate's short-term payroll tax break bill, the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire" reports. He called the Senate bill "an absurd dereliction of duty" but added that House members cannot win a messaging war against the White House. He said, "It's very hard for the legislative branch to outperform the president in communications," adding, "He has all the advantages of being one person ... [and] of the White House as a backdrop." Gingrich said, "I think what Republicans ought to do is what's right for America" and pass the temporary payroll tax break extension (Weisman, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 12/21).
Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently refused to criticize Boehner for blocking the two-month plan. He said he supports extending the payroll tax cut, but that he is "not going to say" that he disagrees with Boehner's tactics. He said, "I did not say that, so I'm not going to say that I said that. I'm going to work to find a solution. And how [lawmakers] make that work is something they're going to have to decide amongst themselves" (Parker, "The Caucus," New York Times, 12/21).