Accusing Republicans of “dismantling Medicare as we know it,” President Clinton on Friday said he would veto the GOP proposal to revamp the system to produce $270 billion in savings over seven years.
Speaking to senior citizen activists invited to the White House to hear the veto threat, Clinton said the Medicare proposals, plus the $180 billion cut in Medicaid benefits for the poor, would impose severe hardships and were unacceptable.
“If these health care cuts come to my desk, of this size, I would have no choice but to veto them,” he said.
Clinton has proposed smaller Medicare and Medicaid savings in his budgets this year and last year in his health care proposal. But because the White House is just beginning the highly partisan and sensitive battle over Medicare, the president has taken a hard public stance, for the first time Friday issuing a veto threat over the budget reconciliation legislation that will contain the Medicare and Medicaid proposals.
The House plan, like the evolving plan in the Senate, would allow beneficiaries to shift from the traditional fee-for-service system to health maintenance organizations, medical savings accounts and other private programs as a means of reducing costs. It would make large cuts in payments to hospitals and doctors as well as force wealthier seniors to pay considerably higher premiums.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., speaking even before Clinton issued his formal veto threat, said it was in Clinton’s political interest to sign the budget and tax legislation known as reconciliation along with its provisions overhauling welfare and Medicare - and that he expected him to do so.
“The president understands that Truman’s battle cry was “a do-nothing Congress,’ not “a do-nothing president,”’ Gingrich told a breakfast gathering of reporters. “It is far more rational for him to move to the center and work with us than be the last defender of the old order.”
Later, during a satellite television town meeting, Gingrich appeared with Texas billionaire Ross Perot, and continued the House Republicans’ effort to persuade the public that changes are necessary to save the Medicare system. Each repeated the now-familiar warning from Medicare trustees that the system will go broke in seven years if nothing is done.
The Clinton administration accepts that the Medicare trust fund must be subject to cost controls to preserve financial stability. But they argue GOP Medicare plans are aimed as much at providing savings to be used to pay for a tax cut for the well-off as they are for restoring Medicare’s financial security.