A group of Senate Democrats is threatening to derail a deal Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe DC bubble is strangling the DNC Dems want Sessions to recuse himself from Trump-Russia probe Ryan says Trump, GOP 'in complete sync' on ObamaCare MORE offered to doctors in exchange for their support of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFive takeaways from Trump's inauguration Michael Reagan: Trump's fighting words rattle Washington Obama's post-presidential vacation delayed by bad weather MORE’s healthcare initiative.
Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Tom CarperTom CarperPruitt says his EPA will work with the states Dems prepare to face off with Trump's pick to lead EPA Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes MORE (Del.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDem senator: Violent inauguration protesters ‘disgusting’ Five things to watch for in Mnuchin hearing Senators introduce dueling miners bills MORE (Mo.) on Tuesday voiced opposition to separate legislation that would freeze scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors for the next 10 years.
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 StabenowHillary gives Bernie cool reception at Trump inaugural lunch Overnight Finance: Scoop – Trump team eyes dramatic spending cuts | Treasury pick survives stormy hearing Dems blast Trump plans for deep spending cuts 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.
“They haven’t told us how they want to pay for it,” Durbin said.
Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Why Democrats fear a successful inaugural address from Trump CBO: 18 million could lose coverage after ObamaCare repeal 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 AlexanderSenate committee vote on DeVos postponed Cheney calls for DeVos to be confirmed ‘promptly’ With Trump pick Tom Price, cool heads can prevail on health reform 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 CollinsGOP rep faces testy crowd at constituent meeting over ObamaCare DeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerHaley ready for UN role despite dearth of foreign policy experience Top Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee Trump’s UN pick threads needle on Russia, NATO MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynSenate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch Top GOP senator warns of weekend work on Trump nominees MORE (Texas), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonTrump, Democrats can bridge divide to make college more affordable Trump picks Obama nominee for VA secretary Five races to watch in 2017 MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiWhat we learned from Rick Perry's confirmation hearing Perry regrets saying he would abolish Energy Department Trump education pick to face Warren, Sanders MORE (Alaska), Pat RobertsPat RobertsOvernight Finance: Scoop – Trump team eyes dramatic spending cuts | Treasury pick survives stormy hearing Hearing derailed after senator suggests colleague needs Valium Live coverage: Senators grill Trump's Treasury pick 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.