GOP Leaders, Clinton Reach $108.9B Agreement on Labor-HHS Bill
The White House reported yesterday that President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders have reached a $108.9 billion agreement on the "contentious" FY 2001 Labor-HHS appropriations bill -- a deal that provided the "first hints" of a "breakthrough" in negotiations, the New York Times reports. "We believe we have agreement on a framework on health and education spending," White House spokesperson Elliot Diringer said, adding, "We need to flesh out the details." Michele Davis, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), confirmed the statement. Under the agreement, Congress would provide $108.9 billion for the Department of Labor, the Department of Education and HHS, while cutting $1 billion from other appropriations. The bill would provide $13 billion more than Congress allocated for education, health and labor programs last year, but $5 billion less than the White House had proposed (Pear, New York Times, 12/12). In addition, Republicans agreed to fund a $30 billion-plus, five-year Medicare "giveback" bill with at least $1.7 billion more for rural hospitals and to halt efforts to block ergonomics rules issued by the Clinton administration (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/12). As for Medicaid provisions, the compromise will allow states to have "greater flexibility" to extend Medicaid coverage to help low-income mothers, although Republicans continue to block efforts to provide Medicaid coverage for low-income disabled children whose parents' income exceeds the federal poverty level. The new agreement would also provide "record funding" for medical research (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 12/12). House and Senate leaders hope to pass the legislation as early as Dec. 14 (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/12).
While congressional leaders and the White House remain hopeful that the package will pass, both Republicans and Democrats "downplay[ed]" the deal, which has "eluded lawmakers for months," fearing that liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans may oppose the legislation, the Washington Times reports. Last Thursday, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said he could accept a Labor-HHS package that allocated no more than $105 billion, but DeLay spokesperson Jonathan Baron said yesterday that DeLay would offer a statement when "all aspects (of [the package]) are known" (Washington Times, 12/12). Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) called the agreement a "shakedown," but said the bill would likely pass (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/12). But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "I would hope we'll be done this week. We're moving toward an agreement, but we're not there yet" (New York Times, 12/12).
Prior to yesterday's agreement, several health and education groups held a rally yesterday, urging Congress to approve the pending Labor-HHS bill -- a compromise reached by lawmakers on Oct. 29 -- and not to pass a long term continuing resolution or renegotiate the package, CongressDaily reports. Speaking at the event, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called the current legislation a "true bipartisan appropriations bill," warning that Republican efforts to "put off or dramatically reduc[e]" the package would jeopardize a $2.75 billion increase for NIH research and funds for CDC cancer screening programs, as well as allocations for several education programs (Fulton/Caruso, CongressDaily, 12/11). He added that "it would be a terrible, drastic mistake" not to provide the NIH with the 15% funding boost.
According to Daniel Smith, vice president of the American Cancer Society, "With each day of delay, opportunity is lost for advancing new cancer clinical trials, drugs and cancer therapies that could be saving someone's life" (New York Times, 12/12). Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a leader in the GOP's "moderate wing," circulated a letter signed by House Democrats and Republicans urging lawmakers to pass the current Labor-HHS bill. In addition, One Voice Against Cancer, a coalition of 48 cancer groups, planned to distribute small bottles of merlot to legislators -- a "reminder" of the merlot that negotiators uncorked after reaching an agreement in October -- with labels telling Congress to "stick to it." (CongressDaily, 12/11).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.