By Alexander Bolton - 10/21/09 12:19 AM EDT
A group of Senate Democrats is threatening to derail a deal Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCory Booker is Clinton secret weapon Overnight Energy: Dems block energy spending bill for second day Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika MORE offered to doctors in exchange for their support of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaMovie trailer gives peek at Obamas' first date Boehner: Ted Cruz a 'miserable son of a bitch' Poll: Most Americans disapprove of ObamaCare MORE’s healthcare initiative.
Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Tom CarperTom CarperSenators urge White House to speed cyber policy updates Retailers battle financial sector over data breach legislation Senate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog MORE (Del.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillBill would target retaliation against military sexual assault victims Senate Dem takes on drugmaker: ‘It’s time to slaughter some hogs’ Week ahead: Drug pricing back in focus 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 StabenowOvernight Energy: Flint aid attached to water bill 0 million Flint aid package included in water bill Senate Finance panel announces mental health hearing 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 SchumerCruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' With Ryan’s blessing, lawmakers press ahead with tax reform talks Big business will never appease the Left 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 AlexanderDemocrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico pressure builds; Big tariff vote Wednesday Senate votes to increase wind energy funding 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 women push Trump on VP pick Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll Senate Dem takes on drugmaker: ‘It’s time to slaughter some hogs’ MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerBob CorkerThe Trail 2016: The establishment comes around GOP warms to Trump Trump vows to expand map for GOP, win Michigan MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynSenate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico Overnight Healthcare: Medicare fight looms on Capitol Hill Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika MORE (Texas), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSenate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog Overnight Regulation: Republicans move to block financial adviser rule Senate Republicans move to block financial adviser rule MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiWeek ahead: Senate looks to wrap up energy, water spending bill Energy issues roil race for Senate Federal safety board takes heat for reality TV show MORE (Alaska), Pat RobertsPat RobertsGOP senator blocks Obama Army nominee over Guantanamo Senators call on Obama administration to address steel industry issues Juan Williams: How Billy Graham changed our politics 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.