The House of Representatives late Tuesday approved the Senate's last-minute fiscal cliff package (PDF) that staves off a sharp Medicare physician pay cut by cutting billions from other Medicare providers, including hospitals, pharmacies and dialysis clinics.
Early on New Year's Day, the Senate voted 89-8 to approve the American Taxpayer Relief Act, an amended version of a tax bill that House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced last summer. House members on Tuesday considered the Senate-passed legislation in meetings during the day and floor debate in the evening. In a vote of 257 to 167, the House passed the measure, which permanently extends middle-class tax cuts and postpones the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester for two months. The legislation also averts the expected 26.5% Medicare physician payment cut and extends current Medicare payment rates for doctors through Dec.31, 2013.
Now that both chambers have approved the package, Congress will send the legislation to President Barack Obama for his signature. Moments after the House vote, the president said in a brief news conference that Tuesday's agreement helps reduce the nation's deficit by raising $620 billion in revenue from the wealthiest households in America. He also noted there will be more deficit reduction as Congress considers how to address the sequester, and he indicated he's open to reforms in the Medicare program.
“As I've demonstrated throughout the past several weeks, I am very open to compromise. I agree with Democrats and Republicans that the aging population and the rising cost of healthcare makes Medicare the biggest contributor to our deficit," the president said. "I believe we've got to find ways to reform that program without hurting seniors who count on it to survive. And I believe that there is further unnecessary spending in government that we can eliminate. But we can't simply cut our way to prosperity."
In a summary of the agreement (PDF)—which Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hammered out late Monday—the White House said the president “stood firm against Republican proposals to pay for this fix with cuts to the Affordable Care Act or the beneficiaries."