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Obama endorses Medicare deal

By Sarah Ferris and Jordan Fabian

(The Hill)…President Obama signaled Wednesday he’s prepared to sign a bipartisan deal on Medicare that is emerging in Congress.
“I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill,” the president said during a speech at the White House.
“I love when Congress passes bipartisan bills that I can sign. It’s very encouraging,” he joked to applause.

The emerging “doc fix” deal would repeal a Medicare rule known as the sustainable growth rate, which triggers automatic cuts in payments to doctors. The package would also extend for two years federal funding under ObamaCare for community health centers and a children’s healthcare program.

The House is expected to vote Thursday on the package, which is likely to gain broad bipartisan support. The deal has been in the works for months, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) taking a leading role.

While House leaders have praised the package, their counterparts in the Senate have yet to endorse it. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was noncommittal Tuesday when asked about the legislation.

“I personally am going to wait until we see it having passed the House, before we start speculating what we need to do with it, if anything,” Reid told reporters.

At least a half-dozen upper-chamber Democrats have promised to oppose the deal unless Republicans agree to more funding for the government’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expires this year. The House proposal offers two years of funding, though congressional Democrats have almost universally called for four years.

“My position remains that two years is too short,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate’s Health Committee, said Wednesday. He added that Obama’s endorsement did not mean that he would immediately back off his position.

“Many of us have made our position clear that we want more than two years. We’ll wait to see what we get from the House,” he said.

Senate Democrats have also objected to the fact that the community health center language would prevent federal funds from being used for abortions, something that spurred Planned Parenthood to oppose the bill.

Pelosi argues the status quo prevents federal funds from being used for abortions and that the new bill would change nothing.

After Obama’s speech, White House press secretary Josh Earnest stopped short of endorsing the House bill outright, though he applauded the emergence of a bipartisan deal.

“If something bipartisan emerges in the House, that would be good news,” he said.

Earnest indicated, however, that the proposal could be “further improved” in the Senate through the amendment process.

Still, the spokesman said the administration does “put a lot of stock” in the fact Pelosi backs the deal, because she has an “impeccable record” on healthcare.

Obama’s endorsement of the deal came during a speech on the fifth anniversary of his healthcare law. During the same event, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also announced a major new initiative that it hopes will be the administration’s next step for healthcare reform.

Even as he praised the bipartisan Medicare deal, Obama took a swipe at Republicans for their long-standing battle against his healthcare law.

“We have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case,” Obama said as he marked the law’s fifth anniversary. “Death panels. Doom. A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.”

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