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House Dems From Red States Criticized ‘Misguided’ Hospital Funding Cuts—Then Voted for Them

Senate Republicans now working to remove 'vindictive' provision from Biden's spending bill

Blue Dog Coalition co-chair Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D., Fla.) talks to reporters after announcing her support for the Build Back Better legislation at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
• December 11, 2021 4:59 am

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House Democrats from red states railed against leadership for including a provision in President Joe Biden's social spending bill that cuts funding for low-income hospitals—then they voted for it.

Twenty House Democrats penned a November letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) expressing concern over the policy, which pulls billions of dollars in federal funding from hospitals that serve underprivileged patients in states that have not expanded Medicaid. While those Democrats criticized the provision as a "misguided penalty that puts our most vulnerable constituents at risk," all 20—including swing-district Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.) and Colin Allred (Texas)—went on to vote for Biden's bill just two weeks later.

Senate Republicans are now highlighting the proposed cuts as the upper chamber weighs Biden's $2 trillion spending package. In a December op-ed, for example, Sens. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas) called on their Democratic colleagues to "fight like hell" and stop the "vindictive payment cuts." Should Schumer move forward with the provision, it could hand Republicans a line of attack in the 2022 midterms. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) has already stressed the need to get Biden's bill "across the finish line," even as his hospitals face slashes in funding.

"Members who wring their hands in public over hospital funding cuts but vote for them anyway are the worst kind of politician," said Senate Leadership Fund communications director Jack Pandol. "House majority members already went down that road—the question is whether senators like Raphael Warnock will follow suit and sell out their own constituents for this partisan boondoggle."

Murphy and Allred did not return requests for comment. Warnock spokesman Michael Brewer pointed the Washington Free Beacon to a letter the Democrat wrote urging Schumer and Pelosi to remove the "detrimental" hospital provision. Brewer did not respond to a question on whether Warnock would still support the bill if the provision remains included.

In addition to Georgia, Biden and congressional Democrats' proposed hospital funding cuts would affect 11 other states: Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In their November letter, Murphy, Allred, and other House Democrats revealed that Schumer and Pelosi did not inform them of the provision before releasing the spending bill's updated text.

"The reality is limiting uncompensated care (UC) pools and cutting disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments is a misguided penalty that puts our most vulnerable constituents at risk," the members wrote. "We were not warned of this proposed ‘pay-for' until [the] updated text was released last week. It was not considered by any of our committees this year."

Senate Democrats have little time to scrap or tweak the proposal—Schumer is aiming to pass the bill by Christmas, he said in a Monday letter. But that objective may be infeasible. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) has refused to commit to supporting the spending package and reportedly has "no desire" to vote on the legislation before Schumer's self-imposed Christmas deadline.