House Democrats are urging lawmakers to include a vote on unemployment insurance alongside a budget deal if Republican lawmakers insist on including a short-term fix to the Medicare payment system as well.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, standing along side Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI), said Republican lawmakers have begun pushing to include a Sustainable Growth Rate fix (often called a short term doc fix that addresses a Medicare payment problem) alongside the budget proposal introduced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA).
Physicians who treat patients under Medicare are scheduled to take a huge pay cut in the new year if Congress doesn't enact this "doc fix." Many lawmakers have expressed support for reversing the pay cuts baked into current law should, but such a fix is costly.
"What came out at the [House] Rules Committee, what we made clear to our colleagues is the so-called SGR fix or so-called 'doc fix' while it's something we support, was never part of the agreement," Van Hollen said. "Chairman Ryan acknowledged that during part of the rules committee. Senator Murray has made clear that that was never part of the overall agreement and yet right now in the rules committee they're going to adopt a rule that essentially merges the SGR fix for a three month period into the budget agreement and that does put the overall effort at risk. And the reason for that is that we have been trying very hard to try and get an extension of unemployment compensation. Mr. Levin has been our leader in that effort and we see no reason why we should have support on the SGR fix which we support and want to have but not have a vote on unemployment compensation that's extended for three months."
Van Hollen's comments indicate that Democratic lawmakers see House Republicans' push to end emergency unemployment benefits that expire on Dec. 28 as leverage for including unemployment insurance alongside the budget framework introduced in the Ryan-Murray deal. Van Hollen said Democrats are interested in seeing a vote on the doc fix but only if such a vote was accompanied by one on unemployment insurance.
"So yes we support the doc fix but my goodness it would be unconscionable to not allow the House to also have a vote on extending unemployment compensation," Van Hollen said.