Dems on the defensive after report on Medicare cuts 

Republicans have been busy using the Congressional Budget Office for harvesting ammunition against the Democratic health care reform plan, but so far it's not having much of an impact as Democrats try to push through their latest plan in the Senate Finance Committee.

The GOP Wednesday touted the revelation made by CBO Director Doug Elmendorf that cuts to Medicare Advantage would reduce benefits, despite promises to the contrary by the Obama Administration.

Later in the day, Republicans dug into a letter sent by the CBO to Democrats letting them know that the taxes they plan to impose on the insurance companies will, in fact, be passed along to policy holders to the tune of about 1 percent of premiums.

"These are new taxes," Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "The premiums under the new bill, the new exchange, would be higher than what you're paying today."

But the data is having little impact at the bill markup, where Senators rejected by a vote of 9-14 an amendment by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that would have restored $113 billion in Medicare Advantage cuts if the CBO finds that seniors lose benefits.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., pointed out that there would be no cuts to basic Medicare and that Medicare Advantage, which provides benefits beyond basic Medicare, was much more costly and provided uneven coverage.

"I think it's very important that we clearly indicate that in fact we are not cutting Medicare services for seniors," Stabenow said. "I know there's a lot of political points in trying to scare seniors as we go forward on this bill, but it's not true."

The committee also rejected by a vote of 12-11 a provision that would have delayed committee action on the bill until a formal estimate on cost could be provided to the CBO and then posted publicly for 72 hours.

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Susan Ferrechio

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