House Dems blame Boehner for stalled talks on Medicare deal

Getty Images

Top Democrats are accusing House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court Vote House Republicans out MORE (R-Ohio) of stalling a deal that would stave off massive increases in Medicare premiums for some beneficiaries next year. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday that she has been trying to work out a compromise with BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court Vote House Republicans out MORE’s office to avoid Medicare cuts that would result in premium hikes as high as 50 percent. But with just two legislative days left until a critical deadline, Pelosi suggested that those talks have stalled.

“For the past month, on a regular basis, we have been reaching out to Republicans to tell them the deadline is racing toward us,” Pelosi said at a briefing with a half dozen other Democrats. “We thought we were close to a solution, but when that didn’t happen, we had to go public.”

Under budget rules, Congress has until Oct. 15 to limit the premium hikes — giving lawmakers only two legislative days to pass a bill before the Columbus Day recess. 

“Essentially, the ball is in the court of the Speaker,” Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview after the briefing.

“There needs to be a realization by the Republicans, that if they don’t join us in acting, there will be those consequences. Essentially, it will be their responsibility,” Levin said.

Over the last few weeks, House Democrats have drafted a bill that they hope will win support from Republicans, lawmakers said, though there are still other options on the table. The mostly likely option is a stand-alone bill, sometime this week.

That bill would “significantly diminish the amount of money that seniors would have to pay in their premiums,” though it wouldn’t avoid all of the cuts, said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who co-chairs the Seniors Task Force.

A spokesman for Boehner did not immediately return request for comment. 

The bill does not address the steep costs of preventing the cuts — as much as $7.5 billion, by some estimates.

Boehner will only consider legislation that fully pays for the cuts, a GOP leadership aide said.

"Leader Pelosi and her staff have spoken with the Speaker and our staff about it," the aide said. "We believe that any bill dealing with this issue must be offset, and our staff has relayed this to Leader Pelosi's staff."

“There’s no pay-for right now. If we can give trillion-dollar tax cuts with no pay-for, it seems to me we can protect our seniors,” Schakowsky said in an interview.

Shortly after Pelosi's briefing, Senate Democrats introduced their own version of a bill to avoid the increases. That bill, led by Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRon WydenSenators urge resolution of US, Canada softwood lumber deal What the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress Wyden seeks IRS info on firms linked to Panama Papers MORE (D-Ore.), has nine co-sponsors, all Democrats.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will announce the costs of next year's premiums and deductibles for Medicare Part B in the next week or so, as well as what's expected to be a zero percent cost-of-living adjustment.

The 2016 increases would affect about 30 percent of the 51 million people enrolled in Part B of Medicare, who are not protected from premium hikes through the "hold harmless provision."

For those seniors, premiums would rise about $55 to $159 per month — an extra $700 per year. Deductibles would also increase to about $223, up from $147 last year.  

“There's an absolute urgency. And if we don’t act by the 15th, there are going to be people shouting from the rooftops,” Levin said.

- Updated at 1:14 p.m.