Senate Passes Spending Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

March 20, 2013

The Senate today voted 73 to 26 to continue funding government operations through September 30 — the end of fiscal 2013 — and prevent a shutdown when current appropriations run out on March 27.

The Republican-controlled House passed this stopgap spending measure earlier this month, but because the Democrat-controlled Senate tacked on several amendments, the bill must return to the House for another vote. It will occur presumably before Congress recesses on March 25 for 2 weeks.

The so-called continuing resolution on government spending does nothing to undo the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts called sequestration that will trim Medicare payments to physicians by 2% on April 1.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are poised to vote as soon as this week on budget resolutions for fiscal 2014 in their respective chambers. A Grand Canyon of differences separates the 2 plans.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who chairs the House budget committee, has proposed reducing the federal deficit by $4.6 trillion over 10 years and balancing the budget in 2023 in part by repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and changing Medicare to a "premium support" format, which some liken to a voucher system. Ryan's budget also assumes sequestration is here to stay. In contrast, the plan crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate budget committee, rolls back sequestration, preserves the ACA and the basic structure of Medicare, and reduces the deficit by $1.85 trillion over 10 years. Half of that amount would come from higher tax revenue.

Unlike Ryan's bill, Murray's reflects the $138 billion cost of repealing the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that Medicare uses to set physician reimbursement. That formula will trigger a 26.5% pay cut for physicians on January 1, 2014, unless Congress acts to avert it.

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil his own budget for fiscal 2014 in early April, setting the stage for 3-way negotiations about the nation's fiscal future.