Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including articles on the Capitol Hill stalemate that threatens to cut Medicare payments to doctors and government efforts to keep details of a research experiment on bird flu secret.
Kaiser Health News: New Year, New Health Care Battles (Video)
Kaiser Health News reporters detail some of the major issues they expect will be in the news in 2012, including the GOP's fight to repeal the federal health law and what Republicans may offer instead; states' efforts to control growing Medicaid costs; the rising cost of health care for consumers (12/21). Watch the videos.
Kaiser Health News: Needle-Exchange Programs Face New Federal Funding Ban
Kaiser Health News reporter Sarah Barr writes: "Federal funding for syringe- exchange programs -- a controversial concept that public health advocates have long argued prevents the spread of HIV and other diseases -- is about to be prohibited once more, just two years after Congress lifted a 21-year ban" (Barr, 12/21). Read the story.
The Los Angeles Times: U.S. Leaders Say They Are Hard At Work On Payroll Tax
With no endgame in sight to prevent a looming payroll tax hike, President Obama and congressional leaders took turns trying to convince Americans that they were hard at work to save the tax break -; even though Congress has essentially closed for the holidays. ... But finding consensus is easier said than done. Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over how to pay for the legislation, which would cost $200 billion for a full year. The package would extend the 2-percentage-point reduction on the payroll tax workers contribute to Social Security that has been in place all year and that expires Dec. 31. It also would continue unemployment insurance for 3 million jobless Americans and shield doctors who treat Medicare patients from a 20% pay cut (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/21).
The New York Times: Obama Gets A Lift From Tax Battle With Republicans
After a long stretch of high unemployment, legislative turmoil and, in turn, slipping public approval, President Obama seemed to regain his political footing this week with the help of House Republicans, whose handling of a standoff over payroll taxes had even leading conservatives accusing them of bungling the politically charged issue (Calmes, 12/21).
The Washington Post: House Republicans Face Pressure On Extension Of Payroll Tax Cut
Obama called Boehner on Wednesday to urge him again to allow a vote on the Senate-passed measure, which also would extend unemployment benefits and avert a cut in the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients. If the payroll tax holiday is not renewed, about 160 million Americans would feel it in their pocketbooks next year; the average worker would pay about $1,000 more over the course of the year. Boehner showed no signs of caving to the pressure, either from Obama or his own allies (Kane, 12/21).
Politico: Payroll Tax Cut: GOP Frosh Dig In Hard
The freshmen argued that a one year extension is vastly preferable to a two-month extension (never mind that some in their party didn't and don't want to see the payroll tax holiday extended at all) and that they want an agreement between the House and Senate that provides certainty to middle class taxpayers and to the patients and physicians hoping Congress would come through a fix to Medicare reimbursement rates. And they're convinced that their argument will prevail with the public. They were defiant-;even as friendly venues like the Wall Street Journal editorial page took House Republicans to task for what they called a political "fiasco" (Cogan, 12/21).
The Washington Post: In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback Puts Tea Party Tenets Into Action With Sharp Cuts
If you want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas. In the past year, three state agencies have been abolished and 2,050 jobs have been cut. Funding for schools, social services and the arts have been slashed. The new Republican governor rejected a $31.5 million federal grant for a new health-insurance exchange because he opposes President Obama's health-care law. And that's just the small stuff (Gowen, 12/21).
USA Today: Obama Campaign Promotes Health Care Law
Obama's re-election campaign is putting together videos promoting the Affordable Care Act, the landmark law that is the subject of both a major Supreme Court case and next year's election. "Spread the news about how health care reform is working for seniors," says one video on how the plan is closing the "doughnut hole" in prescription drug assistance (Jackson, 12/21).
The Wall Street Journal: Two Lawyers Strike Gold In U.S. Disability System
Lawyers Harry and Charles Binder began representing applicants for Social Security disability benefits in the 1970s, when the field was a professional backwater. Last year, their firm collected $88 million in fees for guiding clients through the system, government data indicate, making it the nation's largest Social Security disability advocate by far (Paletta and Searcey, 12/22).