Senate Faces Deadline on Medical Funding Bill

Senators return to work Monday facing an immediate deadline for a bill to avert major pay cuts for doctors who treat Medicare patients, but grumbling among conservative fiscal hawks and some liberals could force the Senate to miss the cutoff.

A two-week spring vacation didn’t seem to break the gridlock: Senate leaders who had banked on swift passage after the bill breezed through the House late last month now face the prospect of a drawn-out floor debate with myriad amendments from conservatives, who say the legislation is saturated in red ink, and liberals, who say the bill should provide more funding for a children’s insurance program.

“The challenge for the Senate, that I hope will be addressed next week, is getting the best possible health policy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Finance, who wants to force a vote on funding children’s insurance. “I will be doing everything I can to ensure that that happens.”

The bill that leaders are pushing would permanently nix cuts to doctor’s payments, thus heading off an annual headache for lawmakers who have always temporarily papered over the cuts but have never found the money to pay for a permanent repeal. The legislation would pay for a partial repeal by requiring some wealthy seniors to pay more for Medicare — but it still would leave a $141 billion deficit.