WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans intend to propose a gradual increase in Medicare premiums for wealthy seniors to help cover the cost of renewing Social Security payroll tax cuts and benefits for the long-term unemployed, officials said Wednesday.
The precise details remain to be worked out as the leadership consults with rank-and-file Republicans about the legislation, which has grown significantly in recent days and is expected on the House floor next week.
GOP officials described the plan on condition of anonymity because no final decision has been made.
In addition to the extension of payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits that are at the heart of President Barack Obama's jobs program, House Republicans plan to include a provision to avert a 27 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. All three face a Dec. 31 deadline for action.
In addition, GOP leaders eager to attract votes for the measure are likely to include conservative-backed provisions to speed the construction of a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to Texas and block a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule restricting toxic emissions from industrial boilers.
Across the Capitol, Democrats set the stage for a second politically charged vote in the Senate later in the week on their proposed surtax on million-dollar earners to help pay for the renewal of the tax cuts and unemployment benefits.
Senate Republicans blocked an earlier bill along the same lines, and the Democrats' decision to call for a second showdown comes as they seek to brand GOP lawmakers as protectors of the rich at the expense of the middle class.
The move is "nothing more than another bill that's been designed to fail, so Democrats can have another week of fun and games on the Senate floor while tens of millions of working Americans go another week wondering whether they're going to see a smaller paycheck at the end of the year," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Republicans oppose higher taxes, and GOP aides in the House pointed out that the proposed higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy would fall on some of the same individuals whom Democrats want to tax.
Senate Republicans included higher premiums in their own alternative measure last week. It would have required seniors earning more than $750,000 to pay more for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and other costs apart from the expense of hospitalization.
According to Medicare's website, monthly Part B premiums will be $99.90 in 2012 for beneficiaries with individual income of $85,000 or less. The cost rises gradually, reaching $319.70 for anyone whose income exceeds $214,000.
The dispute over taxes is one of several that must be settled before legislation can reach Obama's desk, and Democrats sought to put the onus on Republicans.
Republicans have said in recent days that to cover the cost of doctor fees under Medicare, they intend to cut funds from the year-old health care bill that is the president's signature domestic achievement.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, dismissed that approach during the day as "not a good idea. That's going to cause more problems than it solves," he said, and urged Republicans to concentrate on drafting legislation that can clear both houses.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders must contend not only with Senate Democrats, but also with disgruntled lawmakers inside their own party who are reluctant to extend a payroll tax cut that they claim has failed to produce any jobs. The proposal to take a piece out of the president's health care bill is likely to be an attractive addition to these Republicans, as is the renewal of current reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Officials said the emerging House bill is also likely to extend several features of Medicare that would otherwise revert to lower payments for some hospitals as well as for ambulances in rural areas, some mental health services and therapy services from non-hospital providers.