Bill Pushes for Evaluation of Entitlement Funding
Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require the next Congress to address problems with the long-term financial stability of Medicare and other entitlement programs, CQ Today reports.
The legislation would establish a bipartisan, 16-member task force comprised of lawmakers and Bush administration officials that would make recommendations to address the issue by Dec. 9, 2008.
The task force would include 14 lawmakers; the secretary of the Department of Treasury, who would chair the committee; and a second administration official selected by the president. Recommendations from the task force would require approval by at least 12 members.
Under the bill, lawmakers would have to introduce the recommendations as legislation in the next Congress, and both the House and Senate would have to consider the legislation after they reconvene in January 2009. Lawmakers could not amend the legislation, which would require a three-fifths majority to pass in both the House and Senate.
Conrad said that he has not determined whether the committee will mark up the bill or he and Gregg will seek to move the legislation directly to the Senate floor for a vote (Clarke, CQ Today, 9/18).
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that the bill "raises some serious questions," such as whether lawmakers should "entrust the future of health care, Social Security, our tax system and perhaps even Iraq to a small group of individuals whose recommendations could be moved through Congress without meaningful input or amendment."
In addition, House Democratic leaders "reacted coolly" to the bill, CongressDaily reports.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) said, "Medicare and Social Security are two of the most successful safety nets in our nation, and any changes must be made on a bipartisan basis. This can be done by the committees of jurisdiction in Congress; they have the experience, knowledge and authority for addressing issues that arise with entitlements."
House Budget Committee Chair John Spratt (D-S.C.) said that the problems with the long-term financial stability of entitlement programs are "too important to try to address everything en masse," adding, "I wouldn't want to condemn it yet, but I've expressed reservations" (Cohn, CongressDaily, 9/19).
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said, "I don't want anything to do with members of this administration when it comes to entitlements."
Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) next week plan to introduce similar legislation, although the task force established by the bill might not include members from the administration (CQ Today, 9/18).
A number of budget watchdog groups, such as the Concord Coalition and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, as well as U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, support the Senate bill (CongressDaily, 9/19).