OVERNIGHT HEALTHCARE: Obama's backing gives Medicare deal a boost

The $200 billion Medicare bill backed by House leaders from both parties won a key endorsement Wednesday from President Obama, leaving supporters hopeful that Senate Democrats will warm to the deal. 

In his first public remarks on the package unveiled Tuesday, Obama said he has his "pen ready" to sign the House's bipartisan bill that would repeal automatic cuts to doctors under Medicare.

The strong support from Obama is good news for House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who have spent weeks personally negotiating the deal.

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It also puts new pressure on Senate Democrats, who have mostly withheld support for the package. 

The bill is expected to easily clear the House on Thursday, which would force the Senate to act before Friday if it hopes to avert the latest round of doctor payment cuts before Congress's two-week recess.

Congress must make a move on Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) before March 31 or doctors will face double-digit payment cuts.

The tight timeline is making some lawmakers nervous. The second-ranking Senate Republican, Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 MORE (R-Texas), told reporters Tuesday that another short-term "patch" may be necessary, though BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE ruled out that route.

"I should make clear that we have no intentions of passing any kind of a short-term doc-fix," Boehner also said Tuesday. "We've got a good product, we're going to pass it here on Thursday, and I hope the Senate will move as quickly as possible."  

There were some signs on Wednesday that resistance among Senate Democrats was softening. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (D-Mo.), for example, offered support for the first time Wednesday.

CBO: HOUSE DEAL IS CHEAPER THAN MORE PATCHES:  The bipartisan deal in the House to repeal automatic payment cuts to doctors under Medicare would increase the deficit by $141 billion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. 

But the congressional scorekeeper also found that the bill would cost less than keeping the current payment rates in place for a decade.

Supporters of the bill argue the second projection matters more, because lawmakers have never allowed the automatic cuts from the sustainable growth rate (SGR) to take effect. The CBO assumes that those cuts are in place when projecting that the bill adds to deficits. Read more here

GOP IS BUTT OF JOKE AT OBAMACARE BIRTHDAY: Five years after the passage of his signature healthcare law, President Obama took a jab at the Republican Party for still lacking its own plan to replace it.

"We have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn't turn out to be the case," Obama said at a White House event marking the healthcare law's progress. "Death panels. Doom. A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress." Read more here.

HEALTH GROUPS DIVIDED OVER CHIP FUNDING: The $200 billion House deal on Medicare is drawing support from family health advocates, despite concerns from Democrats who say the legislation deprives funding for a children's health program.   

Leaders of the infant health advocacy group March of Dimes endorsed the bill Wednesday, praising lawmakers for acting "well in advance of the scheduled expiration" of the program. Their letter, addressed to House leadership, called for the bill's passage despite "disappointment" that the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is only funded for two years.

The groups' support stands in sharp contrast with First Focus Campaign for Children, which is urging Senate Democrats to keep fighting for four years of CHIP funding. Read more here

Thursday's schedule

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the VA's prescription policies for opiods, which are powerful painkillers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will hold a briefing about its "former smokers" campaign.

State by state

Florida Senate's Medicaid plan inches forward

Abortion bills advance in Tennessee House  

What we're reading

Medicaid expansion slashes hospitals unpaid bills  

Alzheimer's debate revived even as bio-gen drug trial advances 

What you might have missed from The Hill

Obama endorses "doc fix" deal 

Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE presses for passage of Medicare deal

Reid gives cold shoulder to Pelosi deal

Please send tips and comments to Sarah Ferris, sferris@thehill.com, and Peter Sullivan, psullivan@thehill.com. Follow on Twitter: @thehill@sarahnferris@PeterSullivan4