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Gov't shutdown averted; sequester cuts remain

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: March 21, 2013 - 3:00 pm ET

Federal lawmakers averted a government shutdown after the House of Representatives approved a $984 billion spending bill (PDF) that will keep the government operating through Sept. 30 and maintains the sequestration cuts that will hit Medicare providers starting on April 1.

In a 318-109 vote on Thursday, House members passed the Senate version of the funding measure that will keep all federal agencies and offices running beyond March 27, when the current funding resolution expires.

Meanwhile, the Senate version added more dollars for healthcare than the initial spending bill the House passed in March. For instance, the final bill added about $71 million for research under the National Institutes of Health. With both chambers approving the measure, it now moves to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.

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Also Thursday, House members passed the fiscal 2014 budget resolution that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced last week. As expected, the vote fell along party lines, with 221 Republicans favoring the bill and 197 Democrats opposing it.

Ten Republicans voted against Ryan's plan, which would offer a premium-support structure in Medicare starting in 2024 that allows beneficiaries to choose from a list of options that includes private health plans and traditional fee-for-service Medicare. It would also cut more than $750 billion from Medicaid over 10 years and transition the program into block grants for the states. A spokesman for the American Hospital Association said last week that the AHA opposes Ryan's proposal in large part because it would keep more than $716 billion in Medicare cuts that the Affordable Care Act called for, but would not maintain the coverage expansions that the law created.

On the House floor before the lower chamber passed his spending blueprint, Ryan called the recent budget debate “constructive” because it revealed the priorities of both political parties.

“We want to strengthen programs like Medicare,” Ryan said. “They seem complicit in their demise. We see Obamacare as a roadblock to patient-centered reform. They see it as a sacred cow. We think national security is a top priority. They want to hollow out our military. We offer modernization and reform, growth and opportunity,” he continued. “They cling to the status quo.”

The Senate is expected to vote on its own budget for next year—which Senate Budget Committee Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced last week—before members leave Washington for a two-week spring recess.

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