Facing stiff bipartisan resistance to a 10-year, $245 billion proposal to extend Medicare payments to doctors, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has decided to scrap a planned Monday vote to begin consideration of the plan.
Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have agreed to vitiate a planned cloture motion on Reids motion to proceed to the Medicare Physician Fairness Act while Reid negotiates with Republicans and a handful of moderate Democrats who have opposed the bill.
Originally included in the massive health care reform bill making its way through Congress, Reid carved out the costly Medicare payment plan and announced a cloture vote Thursday afternoon.
But Republicans are opposed to it over a lack of offsets for the bill. Several Democrats like Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have also signaled their opposition.
A Democratic leadership aide charged that Republicans agreed to vitiate the cloture motion in order to avoid having to publicly kill the bill through a filibuster.
Republican aides, however, rejected those arguments pointing out that the GOP does not have the votes to block the legislation on its own. They countered that Reid scrapped the vote because of objections in his own Conference.
Reid is still expected to try to bring the bill to the floor next week, and leadership aides in both parties said preliminary talks on a narrow set of amendments to the bill have already begun.
Depending on how long the Medicare measure is on the floor, Reid hopes to also clear at least one appropriations conference report next week. Only two of the 12 appropriations bills have made it through a House-Senate conference and to the presidents desk this year, making it a near certainty that Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government operating. The current CR, passed as part of the legislative branch spending bill, expires Oct. 31.
Democrats have also urged Reid to bring up legislation extending unemployment benefits another 14 weeks, but the bill has not moved as Republicans look to attach amendments to it. Led by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Republicans want to include an extension of the popular tax credit for homebuyers. But Democrats, aware that the Obama administration has been cool to extending the homebuyers credit, are trying to block the effort.
Reid announced earlier this week that the Senate will not be in session Nov. 11-13 and will take off the entire week of Thanksgiving, even though the chamber could be in session until late December to deal with health care reform.
Likewise, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced this week he expects the chamber to be out for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. The House will be in session next week from Tuesday to Friday.