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Congress Adds $141 Billion To Debt In First Legislative Achievement

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to pass a healthcare bill that will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit, and rejected an amendment that would require Congress to find a way to offset the cost.

The “doc-fix” bill solves a recurring problem in the way Medicare payments are made to doctors, extends a children’s health insurance program, and requires higher-income seniors to pay higher premiums. The bipartisan effort will be the first major legislative achievement of the new Republican Congress.

President Obama applauded passage of the bill in a statement Tuesday, and said he will be “proud” to sign it into law. (RELATED: House Votes To Add Hundreds Of Billions To Debt)

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will add $141 billion to the federal deficits over the next decade, and by 2035 it will add half a trillion dollars to the federal debt, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The bill explicitly exempts itself from a rule known as PAYGO that requires Congress “pay” for increased spending by cutting money somewhere else.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee offered an amendment Tuesday that would strike the PAYGO exemption from the bill, but the amendment was rejected, despite a push from outside groups such as Club for Growth.

“Congress is about to charge $140 billion to the nation’s credit card,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the CRFB, said in a statement Tuesday. “Striking the PAYGO loophole would at least require it to figure out how to pay off that balance by the end of the year.”

Just eight Republican senators voted against the bill: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby, David Perdue, Ben Sasse, and Tim Scott.

“What that indicates to me is that the Senate isn’t very serious about the budget process,” Paul Winfree, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Policy Studies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They’ve indicated they don’t intend to pay for the doc-fix over the next ten years.”

Supporters of the bill argue it will pay for itself in the long run, although the CBO and CRFB scores of the bill refute that. An analysis of the bill by Medicare’s chief actuary found the “fix” — a new formula for Medicare payments to doctors — is not really a permanent solution.

A special pool of money that doctors can qualify for expires in 2024, effectively cutting doctors’ pay by 5 percent. By 2048 doctors’ pay will be lower than if Congress left the old formula in place, and will continue to worsen, the study found.

“This is literally setting everyone up for another doc-fix in 2025,” Winfree told TheDCNF.

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