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Congress Overrides Bush Veto of Medicare Bill

By Drew Armstrong, CQ Staff

July 15, 2008 -- The House and Senate voted Tuesday to override President Bush's veto of a bill blocking a big cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

The bill (HR 6331) now becomes law. Bush had vetoed it just before noon on Tuesday.

A few hours later, the House voted 383–41 to override the veto. The vote comfortably surpassed the two-thirds majority required, and the override produced almost 30 votes more than the 355–59 tally by which the House passed the bill June 24.

The Senate later voted 70–26 to override Bush. It had passed the bill by voice vote July 9 after voting 69–30 to overcome a procedural hurdle.

Tuesday's action represents the fourth veto override of Bush's presidency. Congress enacted a water resources bill (PL 110-114) over the president's wishes, and overrode him twice on the farm bill because of a procedural glitch (PL 110-246, PL 110-234).

Ahead of the House vote, House Republicans seemed resigned to the fact that they would not sustain the president's veto. "I think we all know what's going to happen," said Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Bush, in his veto message to the House earlier in the day, said that he supported the legislation's goal of stopping a 10.6 percent cut to Medicare's physician payment rates, but objected to the reduction in payments to private Medicare plans, known as Medicare Advantage, that would offset the costs of blocking the physician pay cut.

"Because this bill would severely damage the Medicare program by undermining the Medicare Part D program and by reducing access, benefits, and choices for all beneficiaries, particularly the approximately 9.6 million beneficiaries in [Medicare Advantage], I must veto this bill," Bush said in his message.

The measure would replace a scheduled 10.6 percent cut to Medicare's physician pay rates with 18 months of stable payments. The cost would be offset by cutting bonus payments to private Medicare Advantage plans. Those cuts total $12.5 billion over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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