Dem thumbs down to Reid doctors deal

A group of Senate Democrats is threatening to derail a deal Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE offered to doctors in exchange for their support of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump defends several unsubstantiated claims in truth interview Obama and Trump haven’t talked since inauguration Poll: Voters split on Trump's job performance MORE’s healthcare initiative.

Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Tom CarperTom CarperOvernight Energy: Ethanol groups prep for fight over mandate Dems ask Pruitt to ‘correct the record’ on personal email use Senate Dems introduce bill to rescind Trump border wall, immigration order MORE (Del.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillRNC drops six-figure ad buy for Supreme Court, healthcare fight Red-state Dems in Supreme Court pressure cooker Top GOP super PAC targets Manchin in first 2018 ad MORE (Mo.) on Tuesday voiced opposition to separate legislation that would freeze scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors for the next 10 years.

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Passing the “doctors’ fix” on the Senate floor this week is central to Reid’s (D-Nev.) strategy for passing a broad healthcare reform bill in coming weeks. Reid told doctors groups in a private meeting last week that he would bring the payment fix bill to the floor but that in return he expected their help in passing the healthcare package later this year.

But the five Democrats are insisting that the legislation, which costs $247 billion, be offset with spending cuts or tax increases. The legislation, which was discussed at the Democratic policy lunch on Tuesday, is not offset in its current form.

Reid had hoped to hold a procedural vote Monday night to call the bill up on the Senate floor, but the objections from within his party have slowed the process down.

Reid seemed to acknowledge Tuesday that Democrats may have to back off from their plan to solidify support from doctors by passing a 10-year fix.

“I’ve had a number of discussions with Kent Conrad, and we’re going to take care of the senior citizens and the doctors,” Reid told reporters. “As I’ve indicated, it could be a one-year fix, it could be a 10-year fix, but we’re going to take care of them.”

Doctors groups such as the American Medical Association (AMA) are considered pivotal players in the debate, and the senators’ opposition to freezing the cuts could derail reform. AMA president J. James Rohack has said doctors would not be inclined to support reform if it does not address the steep cuts to their Medicare payments put in place by a 1997 law.

House Democratic leaders also held firm in objecting to the legislation Tuesday, insisting that the Senate agree to offset the cost of the doctor payments with tax increases or spending cuts, or agree to implement pay-as-you-go budget rules for most legislation, which senators have firmly resisted in recent years.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said House Democrats would take a stand on the issue after repeatedly backing down from similar confrontations with the Senate in recent years over expensive measures the upper chamber had failed to pay for.

The intra-party feud comes shortly after the deficit reached a record high of $1.4 trillion for fiscal 2009.

“Look, we’re serious about statutory pay-go,” said Hoyer. “We’re serious about focusing on fiscal discipline, and this is part of it. I had a discussion with Sen. Reid last week and I expect to have another discussion with him about it this week.”

Hoyer said that he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reiterated their concerns about passing the doctors legislation without offsets with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last week.

Pelosi and Hoyer made their position clear in a letter sent to lawmakers who negotiated the joint congressional budget resolution earlier this year.

Sen. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowRNC drops six-figure ad buy for Supreme Court, healthcare fight Five things to watch for in Supreme Court showdown Red-state Dems in Supreme Court pressure cooker MORE (D-Mich.), the lead sponsor of the Senate measure, said Tuesday that she hoped House leaders could be persuaded to accept the legislation if Congress changed how it calculated the budget deficit. Stabenow argues that freezing scheduled cuts in doctors’ payments should not count against the deficit, since lawmakers from both parties have assumed this would happen every year.

But Hoyer has rejected that argument.

When asked if he could “buy that strategy,” Hoyer answered bluntly: “No.”

Senate Democratic leaders acknowledged they would have to rely on Republicans to pass the doctors legislation.

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“We need Republican support,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings Gorsuch: I'm 'sorry' for ruling against autistic student Mattis on defense budget boost: 'America can afford survival' MORE (Ill.). “If the Republicans are in support of strengthening Medicare, saving it so that that doctors don’t leave Medicare, they need to show it with their votes.

“They haven’t told us how they want to pay for it,” Durbin said.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles SchumerCharles SchumerFreedom Caucus, Trump reach 'agreement in principle' on healthcare Gorsuch hearings: A referendum on Originalism and corporate power We must act now and pass the American Health Care Act MORE (N.Y.) said the decision on whether to fix doctors’ payments now rests with Republicans.

“We’re committed to getting this done, but the first question is, Are there enough Republicans?” Schumer said.

Seventeen Republicans voted for legislation averting cuts to doctor payments in July of last year. Democrats scored a big victory on July 9, when the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) surprised colleagues by appearing on the Senate floor after being diagnosed with terminal cancer to cast the decisive vote. After Kennedy tipped the balance, several GOP senators rushed to support the bill.

Of the 17 Republicans who voted for a one-year freeze in scheduled cuts, 11 are still in the upper chamber: Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderOvernight Regulation: Trump's Labor nominee hints at updating overtime rule Trump's Labor pick signals support for overtime pay hike Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Tenn.), Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (Ga.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsFive takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerRand Paul roils the Senate with NATO blockade Lawmakers want Trump commitment to help Iraq post-ISIS Trump needs a united front to win overseas MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynGOP senator: 'We still need to figure out what the president was talking about' on wiretapping Live coverage: Day two of Supreme Court nominee hearing Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate MORE (Texas), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSchumer to House GOP: 'Turn back before it's too late' Watchdog finds problems persist with veterans suicide hotline Underdog candidates try to stand out in high-profile GA special election MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiFive takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote McConnell vows Senate will take up ObamaCare repeal next week MORE (Alaska), Pat RobertsPat Roberts Where hunger is a weapon of war, food fights back Pressure mounts for changes to ObamaCare bill Trump's Agriculture pick should pop Big Organic's bubble MORE (Kan.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Several of those Republicans, however, appear unlikely to vote for a $247 billion bill without offsets only days after the Obama administration estimated the rising federal deficit.

During a floor speech Tuesday morning, Corker criticized Democrats for trying to buy the support of doctors for broader healthcare reform. Cornyn is planning to offer an amendment that would pay for part of the doctors’ payments by implementing medical malpractice reform, which Democrats oppose, according to a GOP source

Murkowski said she is unlikely to support the doctors fix for 10 years unless it is paid for.

Roberts said he did not know how he would vote on the legislation to fix doctors’ payments. He said he would wait to see what amendments are offered and how the debate plays out.

But Democrats may not need to go any further than proposing the fix, Roberts said. The mere fact of trying to pass a 10-year freeze may help Democrats earn the allegiance of some doctors groups, or at least make it easier to pillory the GOP as the “party of no.”

“It’s a very clever way for Harry to propose this because he knows you can’t deny reimbursements to doctors,” Roberts said.  


Jeffrey Young and Walter Alarkon contributed to this article.