By Alexander Bolton - 12/21/11 06:57 PM EST
Democratic leaders said Wednesday they are not interested in approving a stand-alone bill to spare doctors from a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments.
Instead, they urged House Republicans to pass a Senate compromise bill extending the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the "doc fix" for two months.
Republicans have not been enthusiastic this year about extending the payroll tax cut for 2012, a centerpiece of President Obama’s agenda. Many GOP lawmakers are skeptical it would have much impact on the economy and worry it could hurt Social Security solvency.
Extending the payroll tax cut has not been a GOP cause célèbre, either.
Doctors' reimbursements would be cut under the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula mandated in the 1990s. Congress has repeatedly delayed the steep cuts to Medicare payments, which could get passed on to seniors, with bipartisan support. This has raised the prospect that House Republicans might be amendable to passing by voice vote a short-term extension of the doc fix, if not a temporary payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits package.
But Democrats, emboldened by the boost they received from a handful of Senate Republicans calling on the House to pass the two-month package, are not inclined to give House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) an easy way out.
“We want to certainly see the SGR extended by a year. We think all three should — the easiest way to do this is for the House to come back and do what eight senators have now called them to do, what The Wall Street [Journal] editorial page, hardly a friend of Democrats, has called on them to do,” Schumer said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a lieutenant to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) voiced no support for stand-alone legislation to freeze cuts to doctors’ payments.
“The Republicans have the keys to this whole issue in their pocket. That’s why Congressman [Steny] Hoyer and I went to the floor today to ask for unanimous consent to bring up the Senate compromise bill that would have dealt with all these issues, payroll tax cut, unemployment compensation and the doc fix,” Van Hollen told reporters Wednesday.
Van Hollen and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) attempted to pass the Senate-passed payroll tax package by consent on Wednesday morning but were gaveled down by the Republican chairman.
House Republican doctors called on their leadership to consider separate doc fix legislation if the Senate and House remained deadlocked over the payroll tax package.
"I absolutely think if everything goes to heck in a hand basket, then clearly we just have to do this for the doctors and pull that out as a stand-alone bill, and I think that will happen in that event," Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), told reporters Tuesday.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who chairs the House GOP Health Care Caucus, also supports a stand-alone doc fix. Doctors in the GOP caucus previously asked leadership to consider moving a two-year doc fix on its own, but they opted to leave the measure in the same package as the payroll tax extension.
— Sam Baker contributed to this report.