President Clinton threw down a new marker in his fiscal fight with Republicans on Friday, vowing to reject any budget-balancing plan that weakens the 30-year-old guarantee of Medicaid coverage for the poor and disabled.
“That would violate our values,” the president told reporters at the White House. “It is not necessary. And therefore, if it continues to be a part of the budget, if necessary, I would veto it again.”
At the Capitol, Republicans stopped short of saying there would be no budget deal unless it included their plan for shifting federal control over much of the medical-insurance program for 36 million poor and disabled Americans to the states.
But they said they still embraced the proposal, which was included in the GOP budget legislation Clinton vetoed this week. And they chided the president for issuing the demand amid their slow-moving negotiations over eliminating annual deficits by 2002.
“Drawing lines in the sand when you’re in the middle of trying to fix a big problem isn’t a way to perform,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio.
The battling was the latest flashpoint in the contest for public opinion between the White House and the GOP over their rival plans for balancing the budget.
With polls showing that voters prefer Clinton’s plans for smaller reductions in Medicaid and Medicare than Republicans want, the president planned to repeat his theme throughout the weekend. He met at the White House Friday with Democratic governors, who praised Clinton for retaining guaranteed coverage in his plan.
Medicaid is one of the biggest, fastest growing segments of the federal budget. The two parties’ competing proposals for reining its spending are among the starkest divides they face in their negotiations.
A day after Clinton unveiled his new seven-year plan for erasing the federal deficit, budget bargaining was postponed until next week so Republicans could study the package. Both sides are beginning to admit that early hopes of striking a compromise by next Friday are fading, raising the possibility of another partial federal shutdown when a temporary spending bill expires that evening.