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Congress Approves Payroll Tax Cut Extension

No cuts for doctors who treat Medicare patients

"We don't control Washington. Democrats still control Washington — they control the Senate, and they control the White House," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the top House negotiator on the measure. "A divided government must still govern." Camp cited stricter job search requirements for people receiving unemployment benefits and other reforms to the program as wins for conservatives.

But many GOP lawmakers were upset that the measure would add to the federal deficit and doubted that it would do much to boost the economy. Another concern was that it cuts a payroll tax that's dedicated to paying Social Security benefits. Deficit spending would make up for the lost revenue, but some lawmakers fear it would chip away at the program.

"I cannot and I will not support legislation that extends the payroll tax holiday without paying for it," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. "This will add $100 billion to the deficit and it will create an even greater shortfall within the Social Security trust fund that already has over $100 billion shortfall just in the last two years."

And the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, excoriated the measure for cutting the retirement benefits of new federal hires.

"The only individuals paying for this bill out of 315 million Americans are the two million civilian workers who work for us, who work for all of us, day after day, week after week, month after month," Hoyer said.

Extending the 2 percentage point cut in the 6.2%Social Security payroll tax would save around $80 monthly for someone earning $50,000 a year and give a maximum cut of $2,200 to high-end earners.

The reduction in the Social Security payroll tax, which is deducted from workers' paychecks, would cost $93 billion through 2022. In a sudden concession this week that made bipartisan agreement possible, House Republicans dropped their demand that the tax cut be paid for with spending reductions.

In a GOP win, coverage for the long-term unemployed would be cut from the current maximum of 99 weeks to a ceiling of 73 weeks by this fall in states with the worst job markets, with most topping out at 63 weeks.

Of the $30 billion cost of the extended unemployment benefits, half would be paid for by government sales of parts of the nation's broadcast airwaves, half by requiring federal workers hired after this year to contribute an additional 2.3% of their pay for their pensions, up from the current 0.8%.

That increase also would apply to members of Congress, but only to those who begin service as of next January — exempting every current lawmaker.

The bill also would prevent a 27% cut in federal payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, a reduction that threatened to make it harder for seniors to find physicians.

That would cost about $18 billion. It would be paid for by trimming Medicare reimbursements to health care providers to cover unpaid medical bills, cutting payments to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor patients and cutting a fund created in Obama's health care overhaul for preventing diseases caused by smoking and obesity.

A House-approved measure letting states test unemployment benefit applicants for drug testing was pared back, permitting the tests only for people who lost their jobs due to drug use or whose new jobs would require such tests.

Those seeking unemployment coverage would have to show they are actively seeking work, but another GOP-backed provision forcing them to pursue high school equivalency diplomas was abandoned.

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