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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Reid plans to fast-track Senate bill targeting sequester cuts

By Rich Daly
Posted: April 23, 2013 - 6:15 pm ET

Senate leaders plan to introduce a bill this week that would eliminate sequester cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to fast-track a bill to eliminate about $85 billion in sequester cuts left for this fiscal year, according to a leadership aide. The cost of eliminating those cuts would be covered by expected savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The Budget Control Act of 2011 required $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction from cuts to a variety of government programs, including reduced payments to providers and insurers from 2013 until 2021. The Medicare part of the so-called sequester, which applies to all services beginning April 1, will save the government $10.7 billion in fiscal 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The new action to suspend the sequester was spurred by recent reports of massive airport delays due to furloughs of federal air traffic controllers. The bill is intended to give lawmakers time to negotiate a full repeal of cuts scheduled to occur through 2021. It would not restore cuts that already have taken place.

Despite the accelerated schedule for the sequester bill, the full Senate is not expected to vote on it until early May, according to Senate aide.

It was unclear what Republicans' positions were on the bill but they have previously dismissed the use of the war savings to pay for eliminating planned cuts as a budget gimmick. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused the Obama administration of allowing the travel delays to happen for political gain.

Some hospitals have reported that the Medicare cut has already forced them to lay off employees and find other ways to trim costs. The American Hospital Association has said it will kill 496,000 jobs, including those of about 93,000 hospital employees, by the end of 2013.

The sequester also reduced many agencies' budgets by 8% or more, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

“You can't do that without seriously affecting the missions of these agencies,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said about the cuts in a Senate floor speech Tuesday.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology on Tuesday hailed a bipartisan group of 124 lawmakers for asking the CMS to use its administrative authority to restore Medicare payments for chemotherapy drugs and biological treatments delivered at community cancer clinics. Some oncologists have said the sequester's Medicare reduction is forcing them to turn away cancer patients.

“We are asking, therefore, that any available flexibility be used to direct the cuts away from patients,” the members of Congress wrote Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of CMS on April 19.

Follow Rich Daly on Twitter: @MHrdaly

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