Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Senate Pushes Back on Sequester-Extending Trade Bill

Drew Thies 
Senate Democrats yesterday pushed back on a trade agreement which includes a Medicare sequester extension as an offset.

The trade package has been pushed by President Obama as well as Republican leadership in the Senate, but many Senate Democrats could not come to an agreement on the terms of the package. Minority Leader Harry Reid previously demanded currency manipulation language in the package of four bills.

Senate Democrats joined behind Reid in an effort to stall debate on the bill despite efforts from the Obama administration to whip votes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that he will try to gain consensus for debate as soon as later this week.

The trade promotion and assistance bills include a tax credit for workers who may lose their jobs and health care under the new trade agreement. The tax credit is being paid for by increasing the length of the current Medicare sequester, as well as expanding its cut by a fraction of a percent.

In late April, the American Health Care Association along with other provider groups sent a letter to the House and Senate, criticizing the surprise addition of the offset extension and urged its removal from the bill.

None of the bills in the trade package have been formally approved and passage in both chambers is not assured.

Sequestration spending cuts mandated by a 2011 budget agreement included a two percent cut in Medicare provider payments, which extended through the ten year period of the budget pact. However, the aging of the 10-year budget window offers an opportunity to extend the sequestration savings. Several Medicare bills have been funded by an extension of the sequester past its original 2021 end date. The current end date is 2024.

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