Dem whip: Medicare deal will pass

Dem whip: Medicare deal will pass
© Greg Nash

A $200 billion bipartisan deal preventing Medicare physician cuts and extending a popular children's healthcare program will become law in short order, the second-ranking House Democrat predicted Tuesday.

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are wary of the deal — liberals because of the erosion of some Medicare benefits and conservatives because much of the cost is not offset by changes elsewhere in the budget.

Additionally, some Senate Democrats are pushing for a four-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), versus the two-year extension included in the House package.

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But Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said there's enough support in both chambers to enact the changes this month.

"This is a compromise, but it is a good compromise. It is a compromise that we can embrace," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Negotiating the package "has not been without bumps in the road," Hoyer said. "But nevertheless [it is] something that I think a majority of the House and Senate can support."

Hoyer said he's been in discussions with Senate leaders on the issue.

"I don't want to leave any impression they've assured me it's going to pass," he said. "However ... they understand the challenge here, and I think they're going to make the same judgment we make. And that is that, on balance, this is a good bill that does good things. And we ought to pass it, and the president will sign it."

Unveiled Tuesday morning, the legislation would provide long-term stability to Medicare physician payments by repealing the 18-year-old formula known as the Sustainable Growth Rate that threatened to cut those payments perennially. It also extends the CHIP program, which expires in October, through fiscal 2017 and provides more than $5.5 billion for community health centers.

The package was negotiated by Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both of whom praised the agreement Tuesday.

"It will put in place the first real, structural entitlement reform in nearly two decades," BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE said in a statement.

The roughly $200 billion cost would be partially offset by increasing Medicare premium payments on wealthier seniors — a provision opposed by some liberals, who fear an eventual erosion of benefits for everyone.

Some Senate Democrats have been wary of certain abortion prohibitions in the package, fearing they would expand the so-called Hyde amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions, usually on an annual basis. Hoyer said the only difference in the Medicare deal is that the prohibition extends an additional year.

"What was included is very little different than what we do annually," Hoyer said.

On the issue of CHIP, Hoyer said he prefers a longer-term extension, but the two-year window was the best that minority Democrats could get.

"I agree with the Senate [Democrats] — I would like to have a four-year extension of CHIP, I think they're right," he said. "[But] we don't have the votes to do that.

"So the issue is not between two and four [years], the issue is between zero and two [years]. And two is better than zero."

The House is expected to vote on the Medicare package on Thursday.