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A vote for breathing room on debt limit, but other budget deadlines approaching

January 25, 2013


The House voted Wednesday for a short-term debt ceiling fix that would extend the country’s borrowing authority until May – while also applying a controversial provision that would suspend lawmakers’ pay if they don’t pass a budget by April 15.

The bill passed on a 285-144 vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, announced Wednesday the Senate would pass the bill soon, and the White House said President Obama would sign it when it reaches his desk. The debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, but rather pays for debts already accrued by the federal government.

The new timeline would suspend the current limit of $16.4 trillion in debt and allow the Treasury Department to continue borrowing through May 18, and the next day Treasury could begin using extraordinary measures to manage the debt until July or August. Under the House-passed measure, both chambers of Congress must adopt a budget by April 15, as required by statute, or have their congressional pay withheld until the start of the new Congress in 2015.

The short-term fix gives Congress some breathing room on the debt limit deadline, but there remain other budget deadlines that lawmakers have to address. On March 1, sharp, automatic spending cuts that were delayed in the year end “fiscal cliff” deal kick in again. They include a 2% annual cut in Medicare funding. On March 27,
the current funding for the federal government runs out, raising the threat of another shutdown fight.

At the same time, Congress is poised to embark on the annual process of drafting a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-WI, has set a top line goal of balancing the budget within 10 years without raising new revenue. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-WA, announced Wednesday that the Senate will pass a budget this year – the first time since 2009.

The budget resolution is a nonbinding document that sets the parameters for tax and spending decisions made by Congress. The resolutions approved by the House and Senate must be reconciled in conference. The actual changes are made by the congressional committees with authority over the programs.

Concerned that these looming budget deadlines could trigger cost-cutting measures that put hospital funding at risk, the AHA is hosting two Advocacy Day meetings next month in Washington – Feb. 13 and 26 – to help hospital and health system leaders make the case that fresh payment cuts could have serious conse- quences for patient care. At these meetings, AHA staff will update hospital and health system leaders on recent budget developments. Following the meeting, hospital advocates will take their concerns directly to lawmakers and their staff on Capitol Hill.

For more on next month’s Advocacy Day meetings, click on: http://tinyurl.com/axrnxon. And view a new video from AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock on the budget environment’s challenges for hospital leaders and how they can bolster the AHA’s message on protecting hospital payments and patient care. Click on: http://tinyurl.com/b634hcm.