- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hours after President Bush Tuesday vetoed a bill that called for canceling a cut in doctors’ Medicare pay, both houses of Congress easily overturned the action and enacted the bill into law.

It was the third time since late 2007 that Congress has passed legislation by overriding a Bush veto.

Mr. Bush “will have to explain to America’s seniors why he was so willing to stand between them and their health care,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “But, thankfully, we don’t have to take no for an answer.”

The House voted 383-41 to override the veto, more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill. No Democrats voted against the measure, while 153 Republicans joined 230 Democrats in voting yes.

The House in April initially passed the bill by a vote of 349-62.

Later Tuesday, the Senate followed suit, voting 70-26 to override the veto. Twenty-one Republicans joined 47 Democrats and two independents in voting yes. No Democrats voted against the measure.

The Senate last week initially passed the bill 69-30 after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who is recovering from cancer surgery, made an unexpected visit to Capitol Hill to vote for the measure. The bill had received 59 votes on an earlier test, one shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. But with Mr. Kennedy’s vote pushing the tally to 60 to seal the outcome, several Republicans who formerly opposed the measure switched their vote to yes.

Mr. Kennedy was not present for Tuesday’s vote.

Four Republican senators who voted against the bill last week voted Tuesday to overturn the veto: Sens. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, and Thad Cochran and Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi.

“Congress today did its part to make sure the president’s stubborn opposition to the millions of American seniors and veterans who rely on Medicare does not stand,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The legislation scuttles a 10.6 percent pay cut for doctors treating Medicare patients that kicked in July 1. Some doctors have threatened to quit taking new Medicare patients if the cut was allowed to stand.

The legislation would freeze Medicare rates for doctors in 2008 and would increase them by 1.1 percent in 2009.

“The 10.6 percent cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients would have been devastating to seniors and the disabled who rely on Medicare for the health care they need,” said American Medical Association President Nancy H. Nielsen.

Mr. Bush said he opposed the measure because it included $13 billion in reimbursement cuts to health insurers, which he said would reduce plan choices for seniors.

“I support the primary objective of this legislation, to forestall reductions in physician payments,” Mr. Bush said in a statement to the House of Representatives. “Yet taking choices away from seniors to pay physicians is wrong. This bill is objectionable, and I am vetoing it.”

Tuesday’s votes were a rare example of bipartisan cooperation in an increasing polarized and partisan Congress.

“A vast majority of the House and the Senate have come together, in a way that I have not seen in the past 10 or 12 years, to work out a bipartisan agreement to proceed,” said Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat. “I hope that is a harbinger of the future.”