Super committee still at loggerheads on deficit, agreement still elusive

With just days remaining to overcome the impasse, deficit panel members appear to be making no progress toward an agreement to reach the 10-year savings target. Still, meetings and discussions continued regarding possible tax increases and cuts in the growth of programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

The Washington Post: Supercommittee Appears Unlikely To Reach Agreement
The absence of an imminent crisis helps explain the lack of urgency on Capitol Hill this week, despite a Thanksgiving deadline approaching. With a vast ideological gulf separating the Republican House and the Democratic Senate on taxes and social spending, a mere deadline may no longer be enough to spur compromise. Over the past year, Congress has needed the threat of full-scale chaos to force action (Montgomery and Helderman, 11/17).

The New York Times: Lawmakers At Loggerheads On Deficit
With just days remaining before their final deadline, members of a Congressional panel on deficit reduction made frenzied efforts on Thursday to overcome an impasse, but appeared to be talking past one another and reported no tangible progress toward an agreement. Committee members scurried through the Capitol, ducking in and out of impromptu meetings where they discussed possible tax increases and cuts in the growth of programs like Medicare and Medicaid (Pear and Steinhauer, 11/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Tax Spat Stymies Debt Panel
Days away from a deadline, Congress's deficit-reduction supercommittee is stymied, stumped in large part by one of Washington's seemingly unsolvable problems: What to do with the Bush-era tax cuts? … If the committee doesn't reach an agreement to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, automatic spending cuts of that size would be imposed across the government starting in 2013. Extending all Bush tax cuts would add about $3.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade (Hook and Bendavid, 11/18).

Politico: Why The Supercommittee Is In Trouble
Democratic and Republican leaders have begun to spread word among colleagues that they believe the supercommittee will fall short of its goal to find $1.2 trillion in cuts, increasing the likelihood that the 2012 elections may be the only way to resolve the deepening partisan divisions that have prevented Congress time and time again from getting a handle on its finances (Raju and Sherman, 11/18).

The Associated Press: Meetings Continue But Supercommittee Struggles
Republicans and Democrats on Congress' deficit-reduction supercommittee have resumed face-to-face meetings after more than a week of backbiting and stalemate. But the 12-member panel is still limping toward a Thanksgiving deadline with no tangible evidence of a potential breakthrough on a debt plan, even after a handful of panel members met Thursday evening in hopes of salvaging the talks as time runs out (Taylor, 11/18).

Modern Healthcare: Supercommittee Urged Not To Cut Entitlements
Federal lawmakers hosted a large and boisterous group of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security recipients Thursday on Capitol Hill, where they warned the deficit-reduction supercommittee about the devastating consequences of making cuts to these entitlement programs (Zigmond, 11/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Panel Tussles Over Medicare
A congressional deficit-reduction committee's talks over hot-button items like changes in the Medicare program provide clues into one of the ways that negotiations hit a near-stall with just a week before a looming deadline. Democrats on the committee have indicated that they would be willing to raise Medicare premiums and shift costs onto those who can afford the program more easily, such as through testing recipients' means to pay, according to people familiar with the matter. That is one part of a package to reduce deficits with $1 trillion of spending cuts and amounts to a big concession by Democrats, who have long treated Medicare as a sacred cow (Hughes, 11/17).

Kaiser Health News: Super Committee Urged To Alter Coverage For Some Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
Medicare and Medicaid were never designed to work together, so the way states and the federal government split the dual eligibles' bills leads to inefficient care, experts say. Today, only about 12 to 15 percent of the duals are covered by private health plans. Because they pay almost nothing for their health care, duals have little financial incentive to join a health plan that can restrict their ability to see certain health providers. As a result, duals usually stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare, where they can use any doctor or hospital (Galewitz, 11/17).

Also in the deficit reduction mix -

Politico Pro: Dems Circulate Debt Plan With Health Cuts
With the super committee stuck in neutral, Democrats on Thursday readied a $1.7 trillion deficit reduction package that includes $175 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, but paves the way for a permanent "doc fix." A Democratic aide said it was not a formal legislative package or a counterproposal for the super committee but part of the mix of ideas for the panel's endgame and perhaps beyond. The aide said the only formal proposal that has been endorsed by all six super committee Democrats was the one presented last Friday (DoBias and Haberkorn, 11/17).

Politico Pro: House Members Warn Against SGR Proposal
In case there was any danger of Congress passing MedPAC's Sustainable Growth Rate replacement proposal, more than 90 House members from both parties are trying to shout it down. In a letter to House leaders from both parties, Reps. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Gene Green (D-Texas) warn that the proposal to clamp down on physician pay -; especially specialists pay -; would set up "a payment structure that would threaten the ability of seniors and disabled Americans to access care from qualified physicians and providers when faced with a potentially life-altering or even life-threatening illness" (Nather, 11/17).

Meanwhile, in separate action, Congress approved a short-term spending bill to avert a federal shutdown, but more work remains -  

The Associated Press: Congress' OK Of Big Spending Bill Shows GOP Split
Congress has sent President Barack Obama a bipartisan spending bill that averts a federal shutdown, but widespread Republican defections underscore rifts between the party's conservatives and pragmatists. The legislation, passed Thursday, will keep all federal agencies functioning through Dec. 16, giving lawmakers more time to complete their tardy budget work. The bill also finances five Cabinet-level agencies through the rest of the government's budget year, which runs through next September. Lawmakers still have to write nine of the 12 annual spending bills for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, covering giant agencies like the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services Department (Fram, 11/18).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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