Medicare Debate Divides Finance Chiefs

Posted June 11, 2008 at 2:11pm

As lawmakers take to the floor to discuss the record-breaking gasoline prices, a separate debate on Medicare is heating up between the two chiefs on the Finance Committee.

The next bill Senators are set to take up is Medicare payments to doctors, yet the halls have been noticeably quiet as Members and their staff try to plan the next step on funding. Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are clashing over funding for the Medicare payments, causing a rift between two lawmakers who are known for their close working relationship.

Baucus and Grassley are offering two competing bills that aim to avoid the 10.6 percent cuts in doctors’ Medicare reimbursement rates. Baucus’ plan, which outlines a 1.1 percent payment increase, faces a presidential veto, while many GOP lawmakers say they won’t even help the measure get to the debating stage.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Baucus’ bill is unlikely to get cloture and criticized the Finance chairman for giving in to pressure from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). He complained that Baucus “has something to prove to Democrats,” which is preventing him from working in a bipartisan way with Grassley.

All week, the Senate has been ensnared in partisan sniping after Republicans blocked a procedural vote to debate an energy package introduced by Reid. The GOP focused on the windfall profits tax, protesting that it would force more increases at the pump.

Moreover, Democrats expect that Republicans will continue to block bills that are on the floor right up until the July Fourth recess.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters he expected that Republicans will obstruct legislative business, while questioning the political consequences of such a move.

“We have to get 60 votes on many things and there is no way around that,” Schumer said. “They just don’t want to vote yes or no. Or, vote yes and no, because some of their Members don’t want troubling votes.”