McConnell hopes to pass clean ‘doc fix’ bill by midnight

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is “optimistic and hopeful” the chamber will approve the $200 billion “doc fix” bill just in time to prevent double-digit cuts to Medicare doctors.

“We need to pass it today, and I think most of our members understand that,” McConnell told reporters.

When the Senate considers the House-passed bill later in the afternoon, members will also vote on six amendments, three from each party.

{mosads}But McConnell said he hopes none of the changes are ultimately approved, which would send the bill back to the House.

“Honestly it’s my hope that the amendments aren’t approved,” he said, adding that the leadership is still seeking a unanimous consent on the amendments.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he expects to get through the amedments “quickly.”

“We’ve agreed to a very very short-time agreement,” Reid told reporters. “I’ve suggested half an hour.”

All but one of the amendments will require 60 votes to pass, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The only vote that will require a simple majority is a measure from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would require Congress to fully offset the costs of the $200 billion bill.

The amendment would require the legislation to follow “pay as you go” budget rules that stipulate any spending increase must be paid for by a tax increase or spending cut elsewhere. The idea has drawn support from several fiscal conservatives, including Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)

Sessions said Tuesday the vote on Lee’s amendment would be “pretty close,” but there was no formal organizing effort behind it. He also underscored that the imminent deadline for the “doc fix” deal was raising pressure on senators to support what he has said is a flawed bill.

“Too often that’s how we break the budget,” he said.

Senators will also consider an amendment from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) to repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate and one from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that would eliminate the 5 percent payment boosts to Medicare doctors under the current bill. Healthcare groups, such as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Family Physicians, are already warning the measures would harm doctors’ bottom lines.

Democrats also have proposed amendments to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for four years instead of two. And they are proposing an women’s health package that includes extra funding for community health centers.

A third Democratic amendment, from Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), is the most likely to receive some bipartisan support. It would eliminate an annual cost cap on outpatient therapy for Medicare recipients.

– Peter Sullivan and Jordain Carney contributed  

Tags Ben Cardin Harry Reid Jeff Sessions John Cornyn Medicare Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Tom Cotton

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