- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

Maneuvering to boost prospects for sweeping health care legislation, Senate Democrats hope first to win quick approval for a bill that grants doctors a $247 billion increase in Medicare fees over a decade, officials said Wednesday, a move that would raise federal deficits.

By creating a two-bill approach, Democrats intend to claim the more comprehensive health care measure meets President Obama’s conditions that it will neither add to deficits nor exceed $900 billion in costs over 10 years.

If approved and signed into law, the legislation would avert a 21 percent reduction in Medicare fees paid to doctors that is scheduled to take effect in January as well as additional cuts in future years.

The disclosure of Senate Democrats’ plans came as senior lawmakers sat down with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other top administration officials for the first time to craft a health care bill to be voted on by the full Senate.

Two Senate committees have approved different versions of the legislation, requiring the negotiations.

The bill to restore planned Medicare cuts for doctors was introduced without fanfare in the Senate on Tuesday and set aside for swift floor action next week, rather than sent to the Senate Finance Committee for hearings as would normally be the case.

“This is a bill that would permanently change the payment system for physicians to a fairer system,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said as she introduced the bill.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the decision to move quickly and apart from the health care bill was made in consultation with the White House. House Democratic leaders were also involved in the discussions.

Mr. Manley said the measure does not need to be offset by spending cuts or higher taxes because “it does not increase spending. It simply restores a more honest picture of what future physician spending will actually be.”

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