Senate Democratic leaders, looking to trim the price tag from a catchall measure of tax incentives, jobless benefits, and disaster relief, the so-called "extenders" bill, have scaled back the length of time Congress will avert a scheduled cut in the federal reimbursement for Medicare providers, a senior Democratic leadership aide tells Fox.
The source said the new "fix" will keep a 21% cut from going into effect for seven months at a cost to the taxpayer of about $7-8 billion. The previous 19-month patch cost nearly $23 billion; this new, shorter version will trim about $16 billion from the $141 billion price tag of the bill.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), the federal agency that administers Medicare, told providers earlier this week that it would again delay the cut in reimbursements until June 18. It is unclear if that is enough time for Congress to act, though it is likely a stretch.
Democratic negotiators are working with the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on an alternate extenders bill and have been been delayed, according to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, as the bill is tweaked and re-tweaked to reflect changes for various members, including moderate Republicans who are now involved in the writing of the bill.
When asked if Democrats were talking to her about how they could get her vote, Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, sounding a bit exasperated said merely, "Yes. Constantly."
It is clear, according to numerous Democratic senators, that the size of an individual's unemployment insurance check will get scaled back by $25/week, affecting those who have been out of work for more than six months.
Some Democrats, like Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Claire McCaskill, D-MO, said there is a growing fatigue in the caucus about continuing to extend the jobless benefits. McCaskill said there is a danger that it could become "a vast, new entitlement."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, told Fox on Wednesday that she did not think that was a pervasive feeling in the Caucus, arguing that people who are receiving the weekly check really just want a job, not the money.
A dozen Senate Democrats forced the trim-back when they voted against waiving budget constraints for the $141 billion bill earlier Wednesday.
Centrist Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE, among the 'no' votes, summed up the opposition like this: “I am not supporting the bill as it stands and my reasons can be summed up in two words: The Deficit...Washington needs to put a plug in deficit spending. Taxpayers are demanding fiscal responsibility and we need to listen to them."
McCaskill said the so-called "carried interest" provision in the bill that raises taxes on the investment industry, like venture capitalists and real estate investors, was being scaled back, noting the need for a "fairer tax treatment" for that group.
That will likely win the vote of other centrist Dems, like Sen Evan Bayh, D-IN, but that also means Democratic leaders must come up with other, likely painful ways to pay for more of the bill.