- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Senate Democrats said Wednesday there is daylight between a pro-life provision they opposed in an anti-trafficking bill and abortion language tucked into a House deal to overhaul Medicare, signaling their objections may not torpedo long-sought reforms to how the health program pays doctors.

“Do we like it? No,” Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, said of the Medicare language. “Is it as severe as the provision in the trafficking bill? No, so we’ll see where we come out.”

Under pressure from pro-choice groups, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is balking over pro-life language designed to keep federal funds from paying for abortions in both bills, known as the Hyde amendment.

Mr. Reid’s concerns place a new hurdle in the Medicare agreement reached this week by House Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Reid’s House counterpart.

But the minority leader and other Democrats have acknowledged that the provisions in each bill are different, so they might be able to live with language in the Medicare bill.

Democrats have already filibustered to stop the anti-trafficking bill, arguing it extends the Hyde restrictions to include money collected as penalties from criminals. The Medicare bill language, meanwhile, would ban community health centers from using federal funds on abortion, but the provision would expire alongside the funding in two years.

Hyde restrictions have been law for decades, but Democrats say they fear the GOP is trying to expand them to include other types of federal money beyond revenue collected from taxpayers, and trying to enshrine the restrictions into permanent law, rather than the annual spending process.

“In the Cornyn bill, it’s not tax dollars, it’s fines. And to expand it that way just opens the door wide open,” Mr. Schumer said.

Republicans say they’re simply maintaining the status quo by including the Hyde language — it was included in Obamacare to win enough votes — and that Democratic objections should not scuttle bipartisan achievements.

The Medicare bill would repeal an outdated budget tool that Congress overrides each year, anyway, through a so-called “doc fix,” even when the formula calls for a cut to doctors’ pay.

Lawmakers in both parties agree that the yearly overrides are silly, and the House is set to vote on its bill Thursday.

For his part, President Obama said Wednesday he is ready to sign legislation that improves the system.

“As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system,” he said. “I have my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill.”

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