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As one of the sequester's unintended consequences, we're getting a map of who and what congressional Republicans give a damn about. Business travelers? My word, yes. Congress moved right away to keep furloughs from causing flight delays. Cancer patients on Medicare? Ehhhh ... I mean, sort of. Republicans care enough to complain a lot, but not like they cared about flight delays. Enough to propose a bill and write a letter, but not enough to pass anything:
On April 19, dozens of House members, including several top Republicans, wrote the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about their concern that the cuts may violate the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. That law sets prices for cancer drugs covered under Medicare Part B at the average sales price, plus 6 percent for administrative costs. The sequester cuts 2 percent off that reimbursement, according to physicians, primarily from the administrative side. [...]
"We are concerned about how this cut will be implemented and if there is any flexibility available to your agency in how the cut is applied to the payments," the congressmen wrote. "Unencumbered access to critical cancer medicines for Medicare beneficiaries is a top priority for us and we would like to work with you to find a path forward that does not result in cancer patients being turned away by their oncologists."
The letter was signed by a bipartisan group including top Democrats—but hypocrisy points go to Republicans since they have supported sequestration as a general concept while complaining about its effects, whereas Democrats generally wanted to avoid sequestration entirely.
According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the administration by itself can't do anything about the cancer cuts. So will Congress take action? If it does, it remains clear that cancer patients on Medicare come well after business travelers on the Republican priority list. But hey, they're way, way ahead of kids in Head Start!
The idea of the sequester was supposed to be that by cutting everything indiscriminately and making everyone unhappy at cuts to their priorities, it would force a grand bargain-type solution. Instead, Republicans are picking it apart piecemeal, leaving intact the cuts to people they don't care about, like those Head Start kids, while finding quick fixes for the things they do care about, or exploiting them for political advantage by claiming that the Obama administration could magically reshuffle money to avoid uncomfortable-for-Republicans cuts and isn't doing so out of spite. As Jed Lewison wrote about the FAA fix, "The only real solution to the sequester is to simply get rid of it—pretty much everything else is just a debate about who should get punished by austerity." And we know clearly enough where Republicans come down in that debate that we don't need more examples.
Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Fri May 03, 2013 at 09:35 AM PDT.