As the 12 lawmakers on the deficit-reduction supercommittee read letters sent today from the ranking members on several House committees, they might consider the words of a former CMS administrator: Get to know each other better.
Getting to know you? Nah…
“Nobody is going to do deals that are politically risky unless they know each other and trust each other,” former CMS Administrator Tom Scully said in a discussion hosted by the National Journal on Wednesday. “So it's a good exercise to go through. I think under the current political environment, it's not likely to happen,” Scully said, referring to the panel's task of drafting legislation that would cut $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit. That would make sequestration—or the “trigger”—the more likely option.
As Scully sees it, the supercommittee exercise is a worthwhile one because he expects a huge budget deal—even bigger than the one in 1997—to be the major focus after the next election, and these same players will be on the field. And the key players then will be two hugely influential members of the supercommittee: Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax laws. “The same issues are going to be there in a year and a half,” he said. “And the more time they talk about it, the more time they spend together, the better relationships are.”
He also noted that the partisanship today is “nastier,” and those relationships don't exist as they did years ago when the “John Chafees, the Senator Bentsens and Moynihans and the Danforths” had much better personal relationships, much more trust” and it was easier to get things done. For example, he said he's convinced the reason the Medicare prescription drug benefit became a reality is because there was trust among Sens. Baucus, Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Breaux (R-La.).
While Scully doesn't think it's likely that the panel will come up with a plan that passes muster, he did offer some insight into how healthcare could be affected if the panel achieves its goal.
“They're probably going to an across-the-board market-basket cut against everybody,” Scully said, adding later: “And they'll probably going to hit post-acute providers a little harder than acute providers and the reason for that is the politics are a lot easier,” said. “Hospitals are more organized and tougher politically and you go after the low-hanging fruit.”
You can follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHJZimgond.
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