House Dems look to exempt Medicare from automatic spending cuts

While some Republicans are taking heat for seeking to mitigate $600 billion in sequestration cuts to the Defense Department, a handful of House Democrats this week put forward their own proposal to spare Medicare from spending cuts triggered by the August debt deal.

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 3519, along with six other House Democrats, in a bid to exempt Medicare. Towns said Wednesday that hospitals would not be able to cope with reduced Medicare reimbursements required under the sequestration cuts required under the Budget Control Act.

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"Hospitals in New York are already slated to experience $15 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts under the Affordable Care Act over the next ten years," Towns said. "If sequestration occurs, hospitals will lose another $2.6 billion — or over $116 million in my district alone.

"Cuts like these will severely harm patient access to care and undermine an employment base that supports over 700,000 jobs in New York State," he said. "We simply cannot balance the nation's budget on the backs of seniors, while simultaneously harming jobs."

The Budget Control Act requires $1.2 trillion in cuts to planned spending after the deficit-reduction supercommittee failed to agree on cuts by their Nov. 23 deadline. About $600 billion of those cuts are slated to come from defense spending, and another $600 billion are required from social programs like Medicare.

The law specifies that Medicare can be cut no more than 2 percent for a fiscal year, a cut of about $123 billion over a decade. However, Towns's bill would change that to say there can be no reduction at all for Medicare.

Other sponsors of Towns's bill are Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands).

Another group of Democrats, led by Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), are preparing a letter urging President Obama to ensure that the sequestration process is allowed to happen. Obama has said he believes the triggered cuts — which were created as an incentive to pass a deal — must be allowed to happen, and these Democrats agree that Congress should not be allowed to back away from the cuts.

"With the failure of the Super Committee to reach a deficit reduction agreement, we write in full support of your view that the sequester scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2013 should not be repealed absent an agreement to reduce deficits that exceeds the amount to be sequestered," the letter says. "The failure of Congress to act must have consequences. We stand ready to work with you over the next year to put America back on a firm financial footing and will vote to sustain your veto of any effort to repeal all or part of the scheduled sequester."

An aide to Welch said the letter has about 40 Democratic signatures as of now, a number that is expected to increase before the letter is sent to Obama.

Still, Towns's bill is the first formal proposal for getting around the sequestration cuts, and its introduction again raises the question of whether Democrats and Republicans will stick to the prescription in the Budget Control Act. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has said he is preparing a bill that gets around some of the defense cuts, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has prepared an analysis that argues in favor of spreading the required defense cuts around other federal agencies.

— This story was updated at 9:52 a.m. to add the Democratic letter to Obama.

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