House advances doc fix, Ukraine bills

The House on Wednesday got a step closer to passing major bills this week, including one to delay pending cuts to Medicare doctor reimbursements, and another to aid Ukraine after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.

Members voted 227-190 in favor of a rule that will let the House consider the Medicare and the Ukraine bill on Thursday.

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The Medicare bill would delay until March 2015 planned cuts to the Medicare physician reimbursement rate. It's a last-ditch plan to avoid a 24 percent cut to the reimbursement rate that would happen April 1 without congressional action.

The Ukraine bill would provide loan guarantees, democracy and security funding for Ukraine, and also sanction Russian officials or others who undermine that security. The House will vote on this bill, H.R. 4278, after a deal was reached with Senate Democrats not to include language to reform the operation of the International Monetary Fund.

Both of these bills are expected to come up under a suspension of House rules, which means they'll need a two-thirds majority to pass.

The rule approved Wednesday also governs floor consideration of H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act. This bill is aimed at slowing down the process by which the president can designate national monuments.

It would specifically require the president to go through a public comment period before designating national monuments, and require environmental reviews of those decisions.

The bill is a reaction to complaints of western states that say the designation of monument land often disregards the land use needs of states.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said during the rule debate that the bill would not block the creation of new national parks or monuments. Instead, he said it would require the president to undergo a more formal and public process when repurposing land, one that Congress and federal agencies must follow.

"The essence of this bill is very simple," Bishop said. "What it says is the president should be treated like everyone else."

Democrats didn't debate any of the bills covered by the rule, and instead staged a filibuster of sorts to call for consideration of Democratic-backed immigration bill, H.R. 15. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) asked several times to call up the bill, but Republicans declined each time.

Republicans have said they would not take up the comprehensive bill supported by Democrats, and at most would consider piecemeal immigration legislation.

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