Two House Dems defect on IPAB after embarrassment on Senate budget vote

posted at 11:36 am on March 10, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

When Democrats pushed ObamaCare through Congress and onto a hostile electorate, the White House promised that the program would corral rising costs in health care.  The specific mechanism for this was the Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IPAB), which would have the authority to grant or deny funding to Medicare depending on the fiscal health of the program, rather than the current MPAB which only has the authority to recommend such cuts to Congress.  Opponents of ObamaCare argued that the IPAB would act as an indirect “death panel” by denying funding for end-of-life care, while others opposed it for encroaching on the authority of Congress over budgeting matters.

Now, two Democrats in the House have decided to switch sides and support a repeal of the IPAB on the latter grounds:

Two House Democrats have signed onto a Republican bill to repeal a health reform provision that the Obama administration has touted as a central tool to keep health costs under control.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) became a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the Medicare payment board on Wednesday, one week after Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.). A spokesman for the congresswoman said she remains committed to the law’s cost-cutting goals but wants Congress to be in charge. …

The Independent Payment Advisory Board fast-tracks cuts to Medicare payments when spending reaches a pre-determined target. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would save $28 billion through 2019.

Peter Orzsag, the president’s previous budget chief, has called the board one of the law’s most important provisions for keeping Medicare sustainable.

But congressional Democrats have been under tremendous pressure from doctors and hospitals to try to nix an unelected board that directly threatens their bottom line. Over the years, the current Medicare Payment Advisory Board has seen millions of dollars worth of recommended Medicare cuts ignored by Congress.

Capuano is a bit of a surprise switch.  The last we heard from the Massachusetts Democrat, he was modeling the New Tone in politics by telling unions to “get out on the streets and get a little bloody.”  With his liberal credentials so much on display, his defection on the IPAB could be very costly for Democrats looking to hold the line on ObamaCare.

It’s not the only defection that The Hill reports among Democrats, either.  They also note that the vote last night in the Senate on the White House-backed budget plan embarrassed party leadership:

Senate Democrats suffered a wave of defections Wednesday as their proposal to cut just over $6 billion from federal spending this year went down to defeat.

The Democratic bill attracted two fewer votes than the rival GOP measure that would cut spending by another $57 billion this year. The 11 defections will give Republican leaders ammunition in subsequent talks, as they were able to keep their caucus more unified. …

Reid had hoped for a game-changer with votes that showed senators closer to the Democratic plan than the one backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), but the plan backfired.

After the votes, Reid did not respond when asked if he was surprised that the Republican bill secured more votes than the Democratic measure.

And in the House, centrist Dem Henry Cuellar of Texas has used his new spot in caucus leadership to blast the White House for a lack of leadership:

On Wednesday, for instance, he went after the White House for taking a backseat throughout most of the budget-cut debate. Democrats, he said, are making progress highlighting the distinction in spending priorities between the two parties, “but it would be nice if we could get a little bit of help from our president.”

“The president needs to work with us on those priorities,” he said, “and there certainly has to be a lot more communication between the House, the Senate and the president.”

Cuellar also questioned the appointment of Vice President Joe Biden to spearhead the bipartisan negotiations in search of a deal. Biden met with party leaders on Thursday, but left the country a few days later to meet with leaders in Russia and Finland.

“If he’s the chief negotiator — at least that’s what I thought he was gonna be — and then he takes off in the middle of this debate, then where does that leave us?” Cuellar asked.

It seems as though a revolt may be brewing among Capitol Hill Democrats — one that perhaps should have taken place immediately after the disastrous midterms.


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