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Senate derails legislation to block fee cut to doctors

Thu., Oct. 22, 2009

WASHINGTON – With budget anxieties pervading the congressional health care debate, the Senate on Wednesday sidetracked popular legislation to increase Medicare payments to doctors by $250 billion over the next decade.

Voicing concern about adding that much money to the federal deficit, a coalition of 12 centrist Democrats, one independent and all the Senate’s Republicans voted to block consideration of the bill, at least for now.

The goal of the bill – to overturn a scheduled 21 percent reduction in doctors’ fees under Medicare – enjoys broad bipartisan support. But opponents in both parties objected that the measure included no tax hikes or spending cuts to offset its price tag.

The vote was 53-47 against a motion to bring the bill to the floor, 13 short of the 60 needed under Senate rules. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised to find another way to block the fee cut, scheduled to take effect next year.

But the setback for Reid represented a warning about the unpredictable road ahead for the more controversial and expensive propositions at the core of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Even as the Senate voted on a simple and popular bill to help doctors, Democratic Party unity frayed, the powerful American Medical Association did not get its way, and fiscal conservatism scored a triumph.

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