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.