Thursday: Doc fix and Ukraine

The House and Senate finally appear to be on track to pass legislation to avoid a steep cut in Medicare doctor reimbursement rates, and to aid Ukraine.

The Medicare bill is the product of several weeks of work that saw Republicans first try to tie the "doc fix" bill to a delay in ObamaCare's individual mandate. Democrats rejected that approach earlier this month.

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Late Tuesday night, Republicans released a bill, H.R. 4302, that would avoid a cut in reimbursement rates until March 2015 (the new version making a technical correction was posted Wednesday). The bill isn't paid for, but with a 24 percent cut to reimbursements hitting on April 1, there's apparently little time for other alternatives.

Once passed by the House, the Senate should be able to approve it, but that may happen Friday.

The House will also look at a bill providing loan guarantees and other aid to Ukraine, and also sanctions Russian officials deemed to undermine Ukraine's security.

This bill, H.R. 4278, does not include any reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — the result of House-Senate discussions this week. Senate Democrats initially insisted on these reforms, but agreed to eliminate the language to let the bill move quickly.

Both House bills are suspension bills, which means they'll get a quick debate and will need a two-thirds majority to pass. Voting in the House should be done before noon.

In the Senate, a vote is scheduled at noon on H.R. 4152, an earlier House bill that only deals with loan guarantees for Ukraine. Senators will vote on a bipartisan amendment to that bill that includes the broader measures, which will make it much more similar to the bill the House will pass today.

However, the Senate amendment is not identical to the House bill. For example, while it has no binding language dealing with the IMF, it does say it would be U.S. policy to secure resources at the IMF to help Ukraine.

This means that once the House and Senate act today, the two chambers will have to somehow reconcile their two different versions of their Ukraine bills.

Once the Ukraine vote is done, the Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Maria Contreras-Sweet to be the next administrator of the Small Business Administration.

The Senate may also vote on motions to end debate on a motion to proceed to a bill to extend emergency unemployment insurance. The Senate is using a House-passed bill, H.R. 3979, as a vehicle for that language — the House bill would ensure ObamaCare does not require volunteer emergency service providers to be given health insurance.