Fourteen years ago, Congress passed a bill cutting Medicare payments to doctors in a move to reduce the federal deficit. But every year since, lawmakers have caved to pressure from doctors and held off the cuts, demonstrating the lobbying power of a profession that is once again in the crosshairs of congressional budget-cutters. Slashes to Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals are among the automatic cuts -- along with deep slices from the Pentagon budget -- that will occur in December if Congress does not accept $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction proposals from a bipartisan committee that will be free to propose tax hikes or cuts in Social Security. If those choices are a rock, the history of the 1997 law shows that reducing Medicare payments to doctors is a hard place. Lobbyists for doctors and hospitals are sounding alarms, asserting that the cuts, which politicians claim will not affect Medicare beneficiaries, would harm patients by affecting their access to and quality of care.