Congressional Negotiators Near Deal on Medicare “Doc Fix”

The Associated Press is reporting that congressional leaders of both parties praised an emerging deal Wednesday to extend a payroll tax cut and extra jobless benefits through 2012, but cautioned that bargainers still had to nail down final details.

According to the news agency, the proposed deal block a 27 percent cut in reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients and would prevent extra unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless from expiring March 1. Overall, the legislation would cost roughly $150 billion. AP reports that participants said the Medicare payments to doctors would be paid for by reducing Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and by cutting about $5 billion from an $8 billion program under Obama’s health care overall.

The news agency said that the consensus reflected a desire by both parties to put the long-running drama over the issue to rest and a shared sense that their tentative agreement was probably the best deal they could get. The pact came together after House Republicans conceded that the roughly $100 billion payroll tax cut would not have to be paid for with spending cuts, AP reported.

“I do expect, if the agreement comes together like I expect it will, the House should vote this week,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were pleased that the package will extend the payroll tax cut and extra jobless benefits and will block a 27 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements that would otherwise occur on March 1.

“We’re way down the road from where we were just a few days ago,” she said in a brief interview.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., one of the bargainers on the legislation, said there were “just a couple of little wrinkles” left that he believed would be resolved on Wednesday.

“I think a lot of people realize Congress is not enjoying a great reputation,” he told reporters. “Both sides recognized the need to get this

The AP reports that the tentative compromise would extend through December the current 2 percentage-point cut in the usual 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax deducted from workers’ paychecks. That reduction, which saves $1,000 a year for families earning $50,000, would affect 160 million workers and would otherwise expire on March 1.

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