May 23, 1995 in Nation/World

Gop Insists On Medicare, Medicaid Cuts Outnumbered Democrats Attack Most Sensitive Parts Of Republican Budget

Alan Fram Associated Press

The Senate refused to shield Medicare and Medicaid from $100 billion in planned reductions Monday as Republicans thwarted the Democrats’ strongest shot at scuttling the GOP’s balanced-budget plan.

Aware that they would lose, out-numbered Democrats nevertheless unleashed an attack at the two most sensitive parts of the Republican budget. They proposed easing the GOP’s planned spending slowdown for the healthinsurance programs for the elderly and poor by $100 billion, and finding the savings instead by shrinking a possible tax cut that Democrats insist would benefit mainly the rich.

Predictably, the Senate defeated the amendment, with the 52-46 roll call breaking almost precisely along party lines. The vote let Republicans demonstrate that they would rally behind their blueprint for balancing the budget, even against the most sharply pointed Democratic attacks.

But Democrats got what they wanted: A platform from which to repeat their accusation that the GOP was heartlessly gouging the country’s most helpless and aiding the wealthy in their effort to end federal deficits by 2002.

“Now they’re in charge, let them go to bat, but not take the bat and crush so many vulnerable people in our country,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va.

“The bottom line here is, ‘Whose side are we on?”’ said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., listing senior citizens, children and working families on one side and the wealthy on the other.

Republicans responded that the whole country would benefit from their outline to end three decades of red ink by paring Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and other benefits while eliminating 140 agencies.

“Whose side are we on?” responded Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M. “Make no bones about it. We are on the side of all Americans.”

They also used the occasion to argue that they were seeking to slow the growth of Medicare spending to rescue a program that is projected otherwise to go broke in a few years.

“We’re talking about reforming Medicare so it’s solvent; they’re talking about the politics of the next election,” accused Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

The partisan fencing came as remarks by President Clinton emerged in which he said that after Republicans approve a budget, he will offer a “counter-budget” and negotiate with them.

Clinton and administration officials have repeatedly said they would seek compromise with Republicans once the GOP drops some of its demands, including revamping Medicare without reshaping the overall health-care system. This was the first time he suggested he would respond to Republicans with a plan of his own, though he did not say how comprehensive it would be.

“I promised them if they would adopt a budget, that I would negotiate with them in good faith and I would propose a counterbudget. That’s what I gave them my word I’d do, and I will do it,” he said in an interview last Friday with WEVO of Concord, N.H., and other New Hampshire radio stations.

He also said for the first time that he believed the budget could be balanced in less than 10 years, and that he doesn’t oppose the idea of setting a “date certain” for achieving it.

“It can be done in seven years. The question is what is the penalty and what are the tradeoffs,” he said.

By 51-47, the Senate rejected a second Democratic amendment reducing the size of the potential tax cut by $40 billion and using the money to restore cuts to education, another of the party’s top priorities.

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