March 31, 2014

This Week: Doc Fix, Unemployment Benefits, and Budget

By Christy Gullion

The House is not in session today, but the Senate is and is expected to advance another short-term fix to Medicare’s payment system, or the “doc fix.” The yearlong patch (HR 4302) would extend Medicare payments to physicians and prevent cuts to Medicare payment rates that were expected to take place in April without congressional intervention. Members of both bodies had hoped to clear a long-term proposal (HR 4015), but lawmakers never agreed on a way to pay for it. The current short-term patch expires tonight, so the Senate is under pressure to get the next short-term patch in place.

Later today, the Senate will likely begin debating a five-month extension to unemployment insurance. Senate Democrats plan to use a House-passed bill (HR 3979) as a vehicle for the extension to the benefits, which kick in after a person exhausts standard unemployment assistance. Under the proposal, the five-month extension would be paid for by a combination of offsets including temporarily reducing companies’ pension payments and extending US Customs and Border Protection user fees through 2024. The bill would also provide retroactive payments to those whose benefits have already been cut off. Though the measure seems to have enough support to pass the Senate, House Republicans have been cool to the proposal, in part because they consider it too difficult to implement given the now three-month lapse in benefits.

House members will return to the Capitol Tuesday and spend most of the week focused on their Budget Resolution. The FY2015 spending plan House Budget Chairman Ryan (R-WI) plans to release this week will include $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction to balance in 10 years. As a result, lawmakers say the new budget blueprint will recommend deeper and more accelerated cuts in spending necessary to make up for slower projected revenue growth over the next decade. That could take the form of deeper cuts to Medicaid, which would be converted to a block grant program in the House budget, or from speeding up the conversion of food stamps into a block grant program. The plan will, however, abide by the $1.014 trillion discretionary spending limit, as well as $521 billion defense and $492 billion nondefense caps, in the two-year budget agreement Ryan negotiated with Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) late last year.

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