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2-part harmony in House

2-part harmony in House


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WASHINGTON (AP) — In uncommon bipartisan harmony, the House approved a $214 billion bill on Thursday to permanently block physician Medicare cuts, moving Congress closer to resolving a problem that has plagued it for years.

The lopsided 392-37 vote shifted pressure onto the Senate, where the bill's prospects have brightened as Democrats have muffled their criticism and President Barack Obama has embraced the measure.

Still, as some conservatives are balking at the legislation, its Senate fate remained murky.

Thursday's House vote passed a package that contained victories for Republicans and Democrats and was negotiated by the chamber's two chief antagonists, Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

That unity contrasted vividly with the partisan duels that usually hamper congressional efforts on budget, health and other major policies.

The vote even gave House GOP leaders a respite from the inside-their-party rebellions they often face from Tea Party conservatives, including on a measure last month that prevented a Homeland Security Department shutdown.

House Republicans backed the Medicare bill 212-33, while Democrats tilted "yes" by 180-4.

"I want to give John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi credit," said Obama while visiting Birmingham, Alabama. "They did good work today."

Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry, both Nebraska Republicans, supported it. So did Reps. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., and David Young, R-Iowa.

"It has taken several years for Congress to come together on this issue," Ashford posted online. "This will help ensure health security for seniors. I am proud to have been a supporter of this long overdue legislation."

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, voted against the bill.

The bill contains funds for health care programs for children and low-income people that Democrats touted as victories.

Republicans won long-term though modest strengthening of Medicare's finances, including cost increases for higher-income recipients.

Buoyed by such incentives, House members more accustomed to gridlock found themselves with little to argue about. Instead, they praised the bill and each other — one Republican even wished Pelosi, D-Calif., a happy birthday, her 75th — as they all but marveled at their unity in addressing a problem.

"I just want to say to the American people, 'Don't look now but we're actually governing'," said Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.

Congress planned to leave town by week's end for a spring break. Physicians treating Medicare patients face a 21 percent fee cut on April 1 unless lawmakers act.

If the Senate doesn't give final approval before recessing, the government could delay doctors' Medicare checks until lawmakers return to the Capitol.

Underscoring dissatisfaction by some conservatives, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said the bill would deepen budget deficits and barely strengthen Medicare, adding, "We should use this crisis as an occasion to be talking about real entitlement reform."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure's costs totaled $214 billion over the next decade.

World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton contributed to this report.

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