House Approves Spending Blueprint, Medicare Funds
On a near party-line vote of 221-207, the House yesterday passed a budget blueprint "embracing the twin goals of President Bush's economic agenda: limited spending growth and major tax relief," the Wall Street Journal reports. The House-approved budget calls for spending $661 billion to be spent on "basic government services" in fiscal year 2002, which begins Oct. 1 -- "consistent" with Bush's call for a 4% increase (Hitt/Murray, Wall Street Journal, 5/10). The budget provides a 10-year, $300 billion "reserve fund" for Medicare reform, including money for a new prescription drug benefit (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 5/10). The budget also includes $28 billion in reserve funds to "help provide health insurance to the uninsured" (Godfrey, Washington Times, 5/10). That $28 billion would be added to the $71 billion President Bush has proposed for tax credits aimed to help low-income families purchase health insurance. Congress would have to pass separate legislation stipulating how and where to spend the funding (California Healthline, 5/4).
House members also approved $8 billion in reserve funds to "allow certain children to qualify for Medicaid" (Washington Times, 5/10). In addition, the budget would provide $1.35 trillion in tax cuts over the next 11 years (Cylmer/Rosenbaum, New York Times, 5/10). The Washington Post reports that "disagreements between the House and Senate led budget negotiators to sidestep any agreement on specific spending levels" and instead set an "overall target" for spending, leaving appropriations committees to determine "actual spending levels" (Kessler, Washington Post, 5/10). The budget is "not binding," but rather will serve as a "guideline" for Congress when deciding tax and spending legislation for FY 2002. In past years, budget resolutions "have been ignored routinely," the Washington Times reports (Washington Times, 5/10).
Democrats were "sharply critical" of the House budget, the Journal reports. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) called the budget a "fraud" (Wall Street Journal, 5/10). Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said the budget "would jeopardize" Medicare and prescription drug coverage, as well as "risk plunging the federal government back into deficit spending." Republicans "should be prepared to pay a political price when their tax cuts force Congress later to invade the Social Security and Medicare trust funds," Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) added. But Republicans said that their "budget could be accomplished through" the anticipated 10-year, $5 trillion budget surplus, adding that the surplus allows them to "lock away" money for Medicare, as well as provide 4% increases in spending for federal programs and "one of the largest tax cuts in decades" (O'Rourke, Nando Times/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/10). The budget debate now moves to the Senate, where a "close" vote is expected because two Republicans have said they would vote against it, and several Democrats who had supported an earlier version now say they will oppose it (Washington Post, 5/10).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.