Senate bill would delay physician pay cuts for two months

House poised to reject measure

The Senate on Saturday voted 89-10 to pass an amended version of a House-approved bill (HR 3630) that would extend a payroll tax break and delay scheduled Medicare physician reimbursement cuts for two months.

Last week, the House voted 234-193 to pass the GOP-helmed House bill, which would extend for one year a $1,000 payroll tax break that is set to expire at the end of this month and stave off a nearly 30% cut to Medicare physician payment rates that is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Instead, the legislation would increase reimbursement rates by 1% over the next two years.

The Senate's two-month payroll tax break extension and Medicare "doc fix" would cost $33 billion. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it would reduce the federal deficit by $3 billion over the next 10 years.

While President Obama has pledged to sign the short-term bill, he said lawmakers should pass a longer-term payroll tax break when they resume work in January. Obama said it would be "inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle-class tax cut for the rest of the year." He added, "And hopefully it's done with as little drama as possible when they get back in January."

Short-term extension could fail in House

According to the Wall Street Journal, Senate leaders initially assumed that the amended bill would pass easily in the House because it is has been endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and includes a provision related to a controversial oil pipeline that Republicans favor. However, House Republicans are poised to reject the bill during a floor vote on Monday, Politico reports.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "It is pretty clear that I, and our members, oppose the Senate bill." Boehner said of the short-term plan, "How can you do tax policy for two months?" He added, "We really do believe it's time for the Senate to work with the House to complete our business for the year. We've got two weeks to get this done."

However, Senate members adjourned for recess after Saturday's vote and they are not expected to return to the Capitol until January, according to Adam Jentleson, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 12/17 [subscription required]; Raju/Wong, Politico, 12/17; Hook, Wall Street Journal, 12/18; Allen, Politico, 12/18; Bendavid/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 12/19).

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