After thousands of Americans attended hundreds of townhalls this summer, after the President of the United States delivered a rare speech to a Joint Session of Congress, after endless coverage of legislative markups in the relevant congressional committees, what if the Senate began actual floor votes on the health care overhaul and the drive-by media refused to cover it? Couldn’t happen? It already is.

This week the Senate is set to vote on a measure that would approve spending for almost one quarter of Obamacare’s $1 trillion price tag. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has introduced, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is moving to the floor, S. 1776 which, as we explained yesterday, raises Medicare provider reimbursement rates by $247 billion over the next ten years and $3 trillion over the next 75. Under current law, doctors nationwide are set to take a 21.5% pay cut for every Medicare patient they see starting in January 2010. Such a cut could lead many doctors to abandon Medicare patients, thus significantly undermining our entire health care system.

Doctor’s reimbursement rates do need to be fixed. But such a fix should be part of comprehensive reform of our health care system. Instead, Reid and the White House are trying to pull a fast one on the American people, claiming “the Medicare doctors’ payment discrepancy is a budgetary problem” while “health insurance reform tackles a serious regulatory problem.” The Obama administration is trying to add $247 billion in deficit health care spending one week, and then turn around and claim their health care plan is deficit neutral the next. The trickery has come in for some heavy bi-partisan criticism. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said he thought the tactic is a “mistake”, and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) told Politico: “I am for the fix, but I don’t think we should blow the roof off the deficit — not at a time when we are already running record deficits.”

Robert Bixby, Director of the nonpartisan, grassroots Concord Coalition clearly articulates why the Medicare reimbursement fix should be considered part of health care reform:

Dealing with the ‘doc fix’ in a separate bill, outside of health care reform, would change the scoring of the bills but not the effect on the deficit. If policymakers believe that the current SGR [Sustainable Growth Rate] formula is unrealistic, they should replace it with a more appropriate policy and pay for the change in keeping with their pledge to reform health care in a deficit-neutral way. If paying for this SGR change means there would be fewer offsets on the table to pay for expanded coverage, then policymakers would be forced to appropriately weigh their priorities and make the necessary tough choices — either scale back other costs in the health reform package or find more ways to pay for the larger bill.

The Tea Party movement that swept the nation this summer is already making life difficult for politicians that say they care about deficit spending but then support policies that undermine that goal. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 set the stage for the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Will the debate over S.1776 set the stage for something much larger and important?

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