KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

House GOP, Senate Dems To Unveil Competing Budget Plans Next Week

As President Barack Obama courts Republican lawmakers who might be interested in a "grand bargain," the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees are expected to release competing budget proposals. Some hope a conference committee might be able to work out the differences on taxes and spending, including changes to Medicare.

The Washington Post: House Votes To Avert Shutdown As Obama Looks For Big Deal
With a government shutdown now unlikely, Obama is focusing on a new round of talks that the White House hopes could break the fiscal impasse. After more than two years of negotiations with GOP leaders that did not achieve a "grand bargain," the president is courting rank-and-file Republicans who may be interested in a deal that pairs cuts in entitlement programs with a tax overhaul that would include new revenue (Helderman and Rucker, 3/6).

USA Today: Congress To Kick Off Budget Debate Next Week
The debate that budget hawks have been waiting for kicks off in Washington next week when House Republicans and Senate Democrats unveil competing blueprints on the size and reach of the federal government. … Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., has indicated Democrats will target tax loopholes to raise revenue, protect entitlement benefits and echo President Obama's fairness theme in paying down the debt. It is the first time since 2009 that Senate Democrats will produce and approve a budget resolution. … Ryan's budget is expected to again include a proposal to revamp Medicare from a guaranteed benefit to a premium support system in which seniors are given a federal subsidy to purchase health insurance on their own from the private market (Davis, 3/6).

The Washington Post: Paul Ryan, Patty Murray Hold The Keys To Any Budget Deal
Still, last year’s GOP budget hardly charted a path to bipartisan agreement. It proposed cutting deeply into domestic programs, and it would have converted many programs for the poor, such as food stamps and Medicaid, into state block grants with few federal controls. It eschewed higher taxes as a source of deficit reduction. And it proposed far-reaching changes to Medicare that would end the program’s open-ended guarantee for people 54 and younger. Senate Democrats haven't adopted a budget since 2009, Obama's first year in office. Murray has said her framework — which also will be unveiled next week — will propose replacing the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester in part with higher taxes. Democratic aides said that revenue would come from a far-reaching overhaul of the tax code under a fast-track process known as "reconciliation" (Montgomery, 3/6).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Paul Ryan Prepares 'No Surprises' Budget
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said the budget he will unveil next week will make only "modest policy changes" in the conservative blueprint the House approved last year even though he is now aiming for a much more ambitious goal: balancing the budget in 10 years. "I wouldn't expect any big surprises," Mr. Ryan told reporters Wednesday. Last year’s House budget called for major changes in Medicare and deep spending cuts in other programs, but did not eliminate the deficit for nearly 30 years. GOP leaders have promised this year to pass a budget that balances in 10 years. Mr. Ryan said that the task is not as hard as it looks because in the interim there have been changes that have helped close the budget gap: Congress has passed a big tax increase and health care costs have dropped, among other economic factors (Hook, 3/6).

The New York Times: House GOP Plans A Budget That Retains Tax Increases And Medicare Cuts
House Republicans will preserve Medicare cuts that their presidential nominee loudly denounced last year and accept tax increases they sternly opposed just months ago in a new tax-and-spending blueprint that would bring the federal budget into balance by 2023, senior Republicans said Wednesday (Weisman, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Debates Changing Medicare Sooner Than They'd Planned
As Rep. Paul D. Ryan readies the new GOP budget, House Republicans are debating whether to apply the party’s proposed Medicare changes a year earlier than planned, when Americans who are now 56 reach retirement age. No decision has been made, and Ryan declined to address the internal debate Wednesday. The party's earlier promise to keep Medicare unchanged for those 55 and older has bumped up against its vow to balance the budget in 10 years (Mascaro, 3/7).

The Hill: Medicare Cut-Off In Ryan Budget Still Up In The Air
The House Budget Committee has not decided if it will change Medicare benefits for people 55 years and older in its fiscal blueprint due out Tuesday, Republican members of the panel said. Reps. Bill Flores (Texas) and Rob Woodall (Ga.) said that the choice about when to begin overhauling the program's benefit structure is still up in the air (Viebeck, 3/6).

CNN: Ryan Backs Off Medicare Proposal
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is backing off his proposal to change Medicare for people who are now 57 and younger, after personally lobbying fellow Republicans to support that change. Ryan, the Budget Committee Chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, had urged his GOP colleagues to support the entitlement reform as part of next year's GOP budget. But many House Republicans resisted, worried that the plan would be politically perilous because it would break the party's pledge not to include Americans who are now older than 55. Ryan argued for the change because Americans are retiring later and he thought it was more "intellectually honest" to reflect that development in his plan, according to a GOP source. But House Republicans across the political spectrum worried – some openly – that moving the age from 55 to 57 would open them up to criticism that they were backtracking on a promise they had made to voters (3/6).

In other budget news -

The Fiscal Times: How Rolls Royce Health Plan Drives Pentagon Spending
Many critics of the Pentagon's massive overspending during the last decade point to out-of-control costs related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and overspending on ineffective weapons programs. But in the coming decade, as DOD looks to cut $600 billion from its budget, the largest area of expenditure is not expected to be on the battlefield – but in the doctor's office. Costs for the Pentagon's health care program, known as TRICARE, have been quietly but dramatically rising for the last decade (Francis, 3/7).

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