An extraordinary bipartisan accord between House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is letting both parties exhale as they move toward ending the nagging annual threat of Medicare cuts to physicians. Yet each side is bragging about far more than that.
For Boehner, R-Ohio, the package announced Tuesday lets him claim a rare if modest bipartisan pact to strengthen the finances of the costly Medicare health care program for seniors. Attempts by Boehner and President Barack Obama to strike dramatic, money-saving compromises overhauling Medicare and the nation's other growing benefit programs have foundered in recent years, including during their 2011 "grand bargain" talks.
"We have no intentions of passing any kind of a short-term doc fix," Boehner told reporters, using Washington's nickname for the Medicare doctors' measure in a warning to the Senate, where the measure's fate is uncertain. "We've got a good product, we're going to pass it here on Thursday and I hope the Senate will move as quickly as possible."
The plan's fate is less certain in the Senate.
Pelosi, D-Calif., was focused more on the extra money the plan contains for health care programs for children and low-income people.
"In this environment I think we made great progress," said Pelosi, referring to two years of additional money for the Children's Health Insurance Program and the nation's community health centers, which serve poor families, at a time when Republicans run Congress.
The measure would also make permanent programs helping low-income seniors pay Medicare deductibles and poor families retain Medicaid as they get jobs.
Pelosi also had to defend the package against Democratic critics, mainly in the Senate, who complained that it doesn't do enough for children and women and would engrave abortion restrictions into permanent law. The measure subjects community health centers to abortion curbs that Congress has enacted annually since 1979 —called the Hyde amendment — language Pelosi says is routine and will expire after two years.
"I said to my colleagues this morning, I would leave Congress before I'd vote for codification of the Hyde language," said the 27-year congressional veteran, an abortion-rights leader whose compromise with Boehner is being heavily criticized by normally staunch allies.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the bill "advances a bad policy that harms women and families." Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said it would "permanently block some women from getting the health care their doctors say they need."