Budget bill still in flux in Senate committee

Healthcare lobbyists, not to mention Senate aides, are scrambling to keep track of the still-unsettled makeup of the Finance Committee’s budget-reconciliation bill, which is expected to make big cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

For Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the panel, the task is complicated by his continued attachment to legislation to expand Medicaid temporarily to provide benefits to victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. He reportedly scaled down the language to cut the price tag from the original $9 billion but has not satisfied the White House or conservatives on his own panel.

After failing to secure an agreement about how to reconcile new spending with sizeable cuts to Medicare and Medicaid at a Monday meeting with Finance Committee Republicans, Grassley asked them to detail their concerns by yesterday morning. A committee aide said that most had done so by early afternoon but that no clear consensus was immediately apparent.

After the GOP policy lunch yesterday, Grassley told reporters that he was three or four votes short.

Grassley hoped to release his version of the reconciliation bill in time to hold a mark-up this week; committee rules require 48 hours’ notice. The committee aide stressed that Grassley sought an agreement yesterday so that the mark-up could take place by tomorrow. The Budget Committee is expected to combine all committees’ reconciliation packages next week.

The budget resolution, passed earlier this year, requires the Finance Committee to find $10 billion in net entitlement program savings. According to published reports, Grassley proposed a mix of new spending, such as the hurricane relief and a Medicare payment increase for physicians, alongside large cuts in Medicare payments to health-insurance companies and Medicaid’s costs for prescription drugs.

Johnathan Allen contributed to this report.