CLINTON: Expands on Medicare Plan, Lambastes Tax Cuts
President Clinton elaborated on his plan to save Medicare yesterday, sketching a broad outline of reforms he would approve while savaging a GOP tax cut proposal. In his speech before the American Association of Retired Persons, Clinton reiterated his intention to devote at least 15% of the budget surplus to shore up the Medicare trust fund and called for a "modern, competitive" Medicare system -- "pointedly leaving open the door" to Sen. John Breaux (D-LA)'s premium support plan. But the president also obliquely criticized the plan, insisting that any reform must offer "a defined set of benefits," refrain from imposing "'excessive new costs' on low-income beneficiaries" and provide prescription drug coverage (Hager/Haveman, Washington Post, 2/4). The Hartford Courant reports that by putting Medicare for the first time on equal ground with Social Security, "Clinton effectively put another 15% of the surplus ... off limits to tax cuts." The move would ostensibly contribute $650 billion more to Medicare and keep the program solvent until 2020, ten years more than currently projected (MacDonald, 2/4).
No Tax Cut
Clinton used "some of his strongest language to date" against using the surplus for a 10% across-the-board tax cut, as advocated by House Budget Committee Chair John Kasich (R-OH). He charged that the cut, before securing Medicare, "would benefit, clearly, the wealthiest Americans, who have, I might add, done quite well as the stock market has virtually tripled" and would be "the latest in a rather long series of large and risky tax proposals" (Washington Post, 2/4).
AARP Director of Federal Affairs Martin Corry said Clinton's plan "'advances the debate' but did not amount to a 'bold breakthrough." Sen. Breaux lauded the president's effort to "focu[s] in on Medicare," and said Clinton's efforts are "not inconsistent" with those of the commission. Republicans were less enthusiastic, with Kasich spokesperson Bruce Cuthbertson saying, "What you have here is two completely different, fundamental points of view. The president believes the surplus is the government's money ... we believe the (non-Social Security) surplus is the people's money, and the people ought to be allowed to keep it" (Washington Post, 2/4). House Ways and Means Committee spokesperson Ari Fleischer said, "We shouldn't make Americans pay higher taxes because the politicians haven't finished their work" (Bennet, New York Times, 2/4).