BUDGET: Senate Passes GOP Plan, Links Tobacco To Medicare
In a 57 to 41 vote, the Senate approved a Republican budget plan for FY 1999 that would devote tobacco settlement funds to shoring up the Medicare program. The New York Times reports that all Republicans voted for the bill, joined by three Democrats -- Max Cleland (GA), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) and Charles Robb (VA) (Mitchell, 4/3). Senate Democrats, however, "chided Republicans for providing less than Clinton wants for antismoking programs and ignoring his proposals to ... expand child care, and let more people into the Medicare health-care program for the elderly" (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/3). The New York Times notes that the president sought to use funds from the pending tobacco settlement to finance these initiatives. However, Senate Budget Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) opted to divert this money to shore up the Medicare system until a long-term solution for its financial solvency can be reached. "Mr. Domenici said Senate Republicans looked for what programs they thought most needed money" and concluded that "they are Social Security and the Medicare system" (4/3). The Los Angeles Times, however, reports that regardless of where the tobacco money is to be spent, directing it to specific programs may be premature, as "such a tobacco deal is far from certain."
Don't Hold Your Breath
The Senate resolution is only the first step in the congressional budget process. "When Congress returns in mid-April, the internecine GOP dispute over tax cuts will shift to the House, where an even more fractious battle looms," the Los Angeles Times reports (Chen, 4/3). Once the House clears its own budget plan, "conferees from the two chambers will meet to agree on a final pattern for spending and tax policy for the coming year." It is then up to Congress to pass and secure presidential approval for "13 separate spending bills covering defense, domestic spending and foreign aid before Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year" (Pianin, Washington Post, 4/3). The New York Times notes that House Budget Committee Chair John Kasich (R-OH) "has said he will use proceeds from a tobacco settlement to cut taxes," instead of directing the money to Medicare (4/3).