May 3, 1995 in Nation/World

Partisan Skirmish Heating Up Over Medicare Funding To Stay Solvent, Medicare Fund Faces Slower Growth In Spending Or Faster Growth In Revenues

Cox News Service

President Clinton will wade today into the fierce partisan scrap in Congress over who must make the first move to preserve Medicare.

In his address to the opening session of the White House Conference on Aging, the Democratic president is expected to call for bipartisan cooperation on his terms, rather than those suggested late Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

Neither party plans to let the government-run health care program for people 65 and older or disabled go down the drain. But without slower growth in spending or faster growth in revenue, the Medicare fund that pays for hospital care will run out of money in about seven years.

Republicans stress slower growth in spending, rather than revenue increases. The House-passed tax-cut bill makes minor cuts in revenues for the endangered trust fund.

Preliminary GOP plans for cutting taxes and balancing the federal budget by 2002 call for $250 billion to $300 billion in savings from projected spending for hospital and outpatient care under Medicare. Another $150 billion would be saved through annual spending caps on Medicaid, a federal-state program that spends much of its money on elderly people in nursing homes.

On the other hand, Democrats stress expanding health care coverage. Rather than a slowdown in Medicare spending, White House spokesman Mike McCurry spoke of changes that “don’t unnecessarily raise the costs.”

On Tuesday, Republicans spent the morning attacking the Clinton administration for refusing to move first, and they spent the afternoon pleading for private bipartisan negotiations.

Scolding Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala at a congressional hearing, Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., told her, “You’ve got to come forward and give the country some leadership.”

However, Shalala said the Clinton administration would like to see the Republicans’ seven-year budget plan first.

“A tax cut for the well-off on the backs of the elderly is not acceptable,” she warned.

In the afternoon, Dole and Gingrich announced they want Clinton to visit the Capitol after today’s speech and negotiate with them privately over how to keep Medicare solvent.

But House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and other Democrats gave a cold shoulder to the suggestion.

“They’re reaching out for bipartisan support to cut Medicare to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy,” Gephardt said. “No thanks!”

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