Cost-cutting board in GOP sights
2 Democrats join subcommittee vote to eliminate it
After voting last fall to scrap a longterm care program in President Obama’s health care law, House Republicans homed in Wednesday on their next major target in the law by advancing legislation that would repeal a Medicare cost-cutting panel and winning support for the move from a leading Democrat.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee, has long agreed with Republicans who want to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a panel charged with curbing rising Medicare costs that GOP lawmakers charge could limit options for seniors by lowering payments made to Medicare doctors.
Republicans are trying to frame the issue as an indictment of President Obama’s entire health care overhaul, leaving Democrats such as Mr. Pallone in the delicate position of explaining their opposition to the panel while supporting the bulk of Mr. Obama’s health care law.
“Let me be very clear,” said New Jersey’s Mr. Pallone. “My vote in support of abolishing IPAB is not related to my support for the Affordable Care Act. In fact, I do not see IPAB as a significant factor in the Affordable Care Act.”
Joined by Mr. Pallone and Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat, Republicans voted 17-5 to send the bill before full committee — a signal that repealing IPAB is a top GOP priority.
Mr. Pallone said he opposes the panel because it potentially could undermine Congress’ authority by allowing 15 medical experts appointed by the president to recommend cuts in provider payments if Medicare costs grow faster than a targeted rate.
Republicans, on the other hand, are motived by an underlying desire to undermine Mr. Obama’s health care law, he said.
“This is an effort by the other side to continue its political game of defacing the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Pallone said. “All the Republicans want to do is repeal the Affordable Care Act piece by piece. And today is simply another attempt at those efforts.”
But Republicans have issued the same criticisms.
“It is merely another example of valuing centralized decision-making by government-appointed experts over judgments that should be made between doctor and patient,” said health subcommittee Chairman Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.
Democrats indicated they were split over the issue last summer when Republicans held two congressional hearings to attack the IPAB, with Mr. Pallone saying at the time that he would vote to repeal it.
The panel would be banned from making any recommendations to cut benefits, raise premiums, alter eligibility or ration care. While a simple majority in Congress could recommend its own savings, it would require a supermajority to block the panel’s recommendations.
The law leaves the panel with few options for cutting costs except by reducing provider payments and gives unelected appointees too much power, opponents charge.
President Obama said Wednesday his apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Korans by U.S. troops last week has “calmed things down” after the episode spawned waves of violent anti-american protests.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Mr. Obama told ABC News in an interview at the White House. “But my criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to best protect our folks and make sure that they can accomplish their mission.”
Mr. Obama’s letter to Mr. Karzai expressed his administrationęs “regret and apologies over the incident in which religious materials were unintentionally mishandled,” a White House spokesman said last week.
Mr. Karzai’s office said Mr. Obama called the Koran burnings “inadvertent,” adding that the U.S. “will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.”
The president’s critics and some members of the military have questioned the appropriateness of the apology, given the subsequent killing of two U.S. military officers at the hands of an Afghan inside one of the capital’s secure ministry buildings.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a GOP candidate for president, criticized Mr. Obama for “surrendering.”
“The president apologized for the burning, but I haven’t seen the government demand that the government of Afghanistan apologize for the killing of two young Americans,” Mr. Gingrich said. “He is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the United States. Period.”
But the president told Bob Woodruff of ABC News that he has no second thoughts about the apology.
“Everything else — the politics or second guessing of these various decisions — I’m not worried about,” Mr. Obama said.
In the interview, the president tried to smooth over the recent tensions between Afghan and U.S. forces as his administration prepares for the eventual withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2014.
“As difficult as Afghanistan has been, we are making progress because of the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform,” the president said. “The overwhelming majority of Afghan troops have welcomed and benefited from the training and partnering that we’re doing.”
He said war is “tough business” and rarely goes perfectly.
“When you think about it, the same thing was true in Iraq,” he said. “But because of the stick-to-itness of our teams, I feel confident that we can stay on a path that by the end of 2014 our troops will be out and will not be in a combat role and Afghans will have capacity, just as Iraqis, to secure their own country.”
Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were hosting a dinner at the White House Thursday night for troops who served in the Iraq War. The evening has the theme, “A Nation’s Gratitude.”
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama hosted a White House meeting with congressional leaders of both parties, a luncheon that produced positive comments — as well as more election-year sniping about gas prices.
The subject of the private lunch in the West Wing was jobs, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama emerged hopeful that he can strike some legislative deals with congressional Republicans to boost the economy.
“It was a constructive and cordial meeting,” Mr. Carney said. “If folks focus on the areas of agreement and work in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion, we can advance the American people’s agenda.”