Nation/World

A Softer Medicare Alternative Top Senate Demo Offers ‘Sensible’ Version Of Gop Cuts

Further raising the stakes in the partisan battle for public opinion over Medicare reform, the Senate’s top Democrat on Monday unveiled an alternative plan that would allow seniors to actually pay less in premiums in 1996 but would cut Medicare’s spending growth by about a third as much as the Republican proposals.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he intends to offer his plan as a substitute to the GOP bill when the controversy reaches the Senate floor later this year.

He called the Republican proposal, which was approved Saturday by the Senate Finance Committee, “radical and extreme,” and said his proposal represents “a sensible” alternative.

It would reduce Medicare spending by $89 billion over 10 years - compared to the $270 billion in savings over seven years that the GOP is seeking. Both plans would achieve the savings largely through payment reductions to providers.

Daschle said the spending cuts in the GOP blueprint go “way beyond what is necessary” and would cause “a Medicare meltdown.” At a Capitol Hill news conference, Daschle said his plan would not require seniors to pay more in co-payments, premiums or deductibles.

The Senate minority leader’s plan was the third Democratic alternative to be announced in less than a week - a good barometer of the growing Democratic resolve to scale back both the Republican Medicare proposal and the $245 billion GOP-proposed tax cut.

For months now, Democrats have been doggedly fighting the Republican Medicare plans, characterizing the proposed reductions in the annual growth of spending as too severe (from about 10 percent to 6.4 percent) and as inappropriate at a time when the GOP also wants to enact such a large tax cut.

Republicans have strenuously argued that there is no connection between the two, but the unrelenting Democratic attacks may be starting to stick.

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., acknowledged the Senate may have to scale back the size of the tax cut which the House passed in March.

“Some Republicans at long last are getting it,” Daschle said on Monday. “Some Republicans are finally hearing what we’ve been hearing now for the last several months: Don’t cut Medicare benefits to fund tax cuts for those who don’t need it; don’t slash Medicare $270 billion for a $245 billion tax cut. It’s wrong. It isn’t going to work. It’s politically indefensible. And it’s completely unnecessary.”



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