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The Takeaway: Payroll Tax Cut Threatens Gov't Shutdown; FDA Says Don't Call 1-800-GET-THIN

The Gov't That Cried Shutdown: Once again, the federal government will run out of money in a few days unless Congress acts. And once again, partisan gridlock is hampering action. So why hasn't this week's Looming Government Shutdown gotten as much attention as some in the past? Jay Newton-Small at Time's Swampland blog puts it best:

a) we're all tired of writing the same fishbowl, government shutdown story, and b) congressional negotiators for once in their lives are on track to sign off on a bipartisan omnibus that would fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, thus avoiding more of these embarrassing showdowns.

So what's holding negotiators back?  This week, Congressional Republicans want to stop a payroll tax hike that would automatically go into effect for 160 million American workers on Dec. 31 (House Republicans yesterday, in fact, passed a bill to this effect, though it also squelched a jobless benefits extension and ordered work to begin on an oil pipeline). President Obama and Democrats want to stop the payroll tax hike, too. So far, so good, right?

But the unemployment benefits extension, a Medicare 'doc fix,' and a slew of other measures all needing Immediate Attention are likely to be rolled into the same package-to the tune of $400 billion worth of legislation. To pay for these measures without adding to the deficit, Republicans have suggested-what else?- cuts to Medicare benefits. Democrats say no way; let's raise taxes on millionaires instead. And they're talking about refusing to sign that bipartisan omnibus-the one that would fund the government and avoid shutdown-unless Republicans compromise on the tax package. The issue needs to be resolved by Friday in order to keep the federal government funded.

Lap-Band Ads Downplay Risks: Billboard, radio and TV ads touting Lap-Band weight-loss surgery are misleading and underplay the surgery's risks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said. The ads, from marketing company  1-800-GET-THIN, are apparently all over Southern California, featuring smiling skinny people, promises of 'free insurance verification'-and risk warnings so small as to be illegible.

I was in Los Angeles earlier this year and I was astonished at the number of billboards I saw," said Steve Silverman, an FDA director who oversaw the investigation. "I was driving along the 405 ... and it was billboard after billboard after billboard after billboard."

The Lap-Band is a silicone ring surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating. Yesterday, the FDA warned 1-800-GET-THIN and eight affiliated surgery centers that billboards, radio jingles and other ads for Lap Band weight loss surgery must make the surgery's risks more clear. Five Southern California Lap Band patients have died since 2009, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

But 1-800-GET-THIN doesn't provide medical services, nor manufacture, sell or distribute Lap-Band devices, said attorney Robert Silverman. "All individuals who call 1-800-GET-THIN are referred to licensed physicians and accredited facilities where every individual will receive a full and complete disclosure of the risks and benefits of surgical weight loss."

Wednesday Quick Hits: 

  • And a newly passed New York law bars most insurers or employers from mandating mail-order pharmacy use-a move aimed at helping independent pharmacies compete with big mail-order companies.

Photo:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

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