California Healthline Examines Economic Stimulus Plans, Congressional Health Care Agendas
In response to President Bush's anticipated economic stimulus plan, House Democrats have released their own plan, which would cut taxes for families and businesses and would provide some aid to states for Medicaid, the Washington Times reports. Bush's plan, which he will detail today in Chicago, would reportedly cost $600 billion over 10 years (Dinan, Washington Times, 1/7). His proposal would eliminate the income tax that investors pay on stock dividends and would hasten tax breaks scheduled to take effect in 2004 and 2006. The proposal also includes $3.6 billion over two years to help the unemployed find work (Keen/Welch, USA Today, 1/7). House Democrats have released a plan that would cost $136 billion this year, but they say it would only cost $100 billion over the next 10 years because it would recoup "economic benefits," the Baltimore Sun reports. The Democrats' plan includes a 26-week extension of unemployment benefits, a tax rebate of $300 for individuals and $600 for couples, $32 billion in tax incentives for businesses and $31 billion in grants to the states (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 1/7). The grants would help states with Medicaid costs, as well as homeland security and highway spending (Washington Times, 1/7).
Congress reconvenes today under the control of a Republican leadership team that has not had time to prepare its agenda, the New York Times reports. Because of the leadership change in the Senate, Republicans say that they have not had time to organize, and a spokesperson for incoming Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that Frist would not be introducing his top 10 legislative priorities today. Republicans "acknowledge" their agenda largely will be shaped by President Bush's State of the Union address later this month. Until then, party leaders say they will address leftover spending bills that the last Congress did not complete and expired unemployment insurance. Still, Republicans plan to caucus tomorrow to draft a list of their legislative priorities, which is expected to include the administration's tax plan, Medicare reform, a prescription drug benefit and some restrictions on abortion (Firestone/Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 1/7). However, a "string" of foreign policy situations, including conflicts with Iraq and North Korea, may "overwhelm" the domestic agenda. Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.) said, "War is on everybody's minds. But getting the economy going again is second" (Diaz/Hotakainen, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7). Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "The health agenda and the whole agenda could get derailed if there is a war or a major terrorism attack" (Barfield Berry, Newsday, 1/5).
Despite the foreign policy concerns, "expectations are high" that health care will be a priority as Congress convenes today (Kenen, Reuters Health, 1/6). Experts say President Bush will "spark" a health care debate by focusing on his health care priorities during his State of the Union address (Newsday, 1/5). Also, Frist is expected to "take the lead" on Republican efforts to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. While many Republicans are wary of adding a new entitlement to the program, a Frist aide said, "It's important for Republicans to embrace Medicare reform and realize that we need a prescription drug plan." The aide added, "He's telling freshmen [senators], get on board with a plan right off the bat" (Lakely, Washington Times, 1/7). Bush has said he will insist that any drug benefit be accompanied by structural changes to Medicare to encourage private competition and incentives to control costs, and Frist reportedly agrees with the president and will "push the issue," the New York Times reports (New York Times, 1/7). However, Democrats and Republicans differ on how to administer a drug benefit. Democrats favor having Medicare manage the benefit, but the White House, along with congressional Republicans, supports efforts to provide drug benefits through the private sector (Newsday, 1/5). Also, in an effort to "snag" health care away from Democrats as an issue, the president is backing a plan to provide refundable tax credits to help people purchase insurance (Milligan, Boston Globe, 1/7). Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) today plans to introduce his legislative priorities, which include a patients' bill of rights and "expansion of Medicare" (New York Times, 1/7).
NPR's "Morning Edition" today reported on Frist's critics, including patients' rights advocates, on his first day as Senate majority leader. The segment includes comments from Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (Seabrook, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/7). The program also included an interview with John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, and Frank Donatelli, who worked on President Reagan's transitional team, about what domestic issues the 108th Congressional session may consider, including prospects for a prescription drug benefit and whether it will be part of broader Medicare reform (Edwards, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/7). Both segments will be available in RealPlayer online after noon ET.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.