As Fiscal Cliff Nears, There's A 'Flurry Of Activity,' But Hope For A Deal Is Still Slim

News outlets report that a patch to prevent a scheduled cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients is among the items that could wind up in a last-minute fiscal deal.

The New York Times: In Flurry Of Activity, Only Muted Hope For Fiscal Deal
President Obama will meet with Congressional leaders on Friday, and House Republicans summoned lawmakers back for a Sunday session, in a last-ditch effort to avert a fiscal…. Republicans expressed a flicker of hope Thursday that a deal could still be reached to at least avert most of the tax increases on Jan. 1, to prevent a sudden cut in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients and to extend expiring unemployment benefits. But both parties' leaders said time is running out (Weisman, 12/27).

Politico Pro: Sliver Of Hope For A Last-Minute Doc Fix
With Congress coming back for a rare New Year's week session, doctors have a sliver — but only a sliver — of hope for a last-minute "doc fix." House lawmakers are returning to Washington on Sunday, meaning Congress will have just two days to avert the 27 percent plunge in doctors’ Medicare payments mandated by the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate formula. The cuts would take effect Jan. 1 — although CMS in the past has slowed down the processing of doctors' bills, giving Congress more time to find a patch. As of now, CMS hasn't given such an order, but that could change (Cunningham, 12/27).

The Washington Post: Obama Summons Congressional Leaders For ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Talks
President Obama summoned congressional leaders to a Friday summit at the White House in a last-ditch effort to protect taxpayers, unemployed workers and the fragile U.S. recovery from severe austerity measures set to hit in just four days. … But aides said that time had probably run out for an agreement on significant spending cuts or to lift the legal limit on government borrowing. … And late Thursday a hang-up emerged: Republicans wanted to protect doctors from a scheduled reduction in Medicare payments, but they wanted to cover the cost by eliminating a new prevention fund championed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee (Montgomery and Helderman, 12/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House Meeting With Congressional Leaders Presents A Last Chance For A Fiscal Deal
But even as congressional leaders prepared to convene at the White House, there were no signs that legislation palatable to both sides was taking shape. … Republicans and Democrats said privately that any agreement would likely include an extension of middle-class tax cuts with increased rates at upper incomes, an Obama priority that was central to his re-election campaign. The deal would also likely put off the scheduled spending cuts. Such a year-end bill could also include … a reprieve for doctors who face a cut in Medicare payments (12/28).

And in other related news:

The Associated Press/Washington Post: New Taxes For Obama’s Health Overhaul Kick In Jan. 1, Budget Deal Could Tighten The Squeeze
New taxes are coming Jan. 1 to help finance President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Most people may not notice. But they will pay attention if Congress decides to start taxing employer-sponsored health insurance, one option in play if lawmakers can ever agree on a budget deal to reduce federal deficits (12/25).

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