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Who will rein in healthcare costs? Don't look to Congress.

The issue of controlling healthcare costs is so contentious that Congress may opt for a bill that punts much of the task to an independent commission.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gestures during a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Harry Hamburg/AP

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As Congress grapples with how to rein in the high cost of healthcare in America, the option of outsourcing hard decisions to a new, independent commission is gaining momentum.

Backers say a commission with a mandate to improve America's healthcare delivery system and rein in unsustainable costs could be a game-changer.

At a time when lawmakers are getting hammered by interest groups, it’s also a nod to the goal of fiscal discipline without having to specify where those cuts will come. Critics say it’s the latest sign that Congress can’t muster the political will to cut unsustainable costs.

“In their current forms, none of the bills go far enough to reduce healthcare costs given the tremendous fiscal problems facing the country and the major role healthcare plays as a driver,” according to a report by the Committee for a Responsible Budget released Monday.

CRFB president Maya MacGuineas says the polarized, partisan climate on Capitol Hill isn't conducive to making tough political decisions.

“If politicians are going to spend so much of their energy beating up each other and pandering to interest groups, putting in a panel of experts to lend political cover makes these changes more likely to occur,” she says.

The Senate Finance Committee’s healthcare bill proposes a 15-member, independent Medicare Commission to present Congress with comprehensive reform proposals. In years when Medicare costs are projected to be unsustainable, these proposals take effect, unless Congress intervenes with an alternative that achieves the same level of savings.

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