Morning Action: A Temporary “Doc Fix”

DOC FIX.  House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 13% have reached an agreement on a temporary “doc fix.”  The House is expected to vote on the measure today.  Heritage explains this bill is not ideal, but would give Congress time to produce better legislation for next year:

House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) have just reached an agreement on a temporary, 12-month Medicare “doc fix” that would block a 24 percent cut in Medicare physician payment, which was scheduled to go into effect on April 1. It would also keep Medicare physician rates flat until March 2015. The deal is on a fast track for House and Senate floor action.

Another temporary patch to the SGR is not ideal. The SGR is unworkable, and it should be replaced with a Medicare payment system that makes sense for doctors and patients. Heritage has outlined, repeatedly, how this can and should be done. A year’s grace period would enable Congress to enact a permanent SGR reform, improving on their bills and paying for the reforms with sensible changes that create permanent Medicare savings. The best source of those savings is structural Medicare reform.

Meanwhile the Congressional Budget Office has been working on scoring the bill (sub. req’d):

 The CBO found that overall the bill would reduce spending, but the savings do not take effect until the second half of the 10-year budget window. Between 2014 and 2019, the measure would increase spending by $17.7 billion.

UI. The Senate is headed for a vote on an extension of unemployment benefits Friday:

The Senate is moving ahead with much-anticipated votes on an extension of unemployment insurance benefits that lapsed at the end of last year.

Majority Leader Harry Reid set up a procedural vote Wednesday to jumpstart Senate debate on the bipartisan deal that would extend the jobless benefits for a total of five months. Without an agreement, that won’t happen until after a confirmation vote on John B. Owens, a California attorney who President Barack Obama’s tapped for a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Before closing for the night, Reid moved to limit debate on the Owens nomination and set the gears in motion to take up the unemployment measure, setting up a vote sequence that could start automatically on Friday, even without an agreement. Reid warned of possible weekend work right at the beginning of the week, a threat that’s been quite common but seldom carried out.

PUTIN.  The Heritage Foundation explains one critical step the Congress could take to weaken Putin significantly:

How about lifting restrictions on American natural gas exports?

An antiquated and unnecessary law stipulates that if a company wants to export natural gas to a country with which the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement (FTA), the Department of Energy must determine if the project is in the public’s national interest. Congressman Henry Waxman (D–Calif.) warned, “Rubber-stamping unlimited LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports without any determination that they are in the public interest could have serious unintended consequence.”

But the distinction between exports to FTA countries that are in the “public interest,” and those that are not, is an arbitrary one. There are numerous non-FTA nations with which the U.S. trades regularly. Natural gas should be no different and should be treated as any other good traded around the world.

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