Lawmakers Critical of Health Spending Cuts in Bush Budget Request
Senate Democrats and administration officials on Tuesday "sparred" over "unrealistic assumptions" on health care spending and other issues related to the fiscal year 2009 budget request that President Bush released on Monday, CQ Today reports (Clarke/Higa, CQ Today, 2/5).
According to the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, "lawmakers made it plain that they would ignore the president's proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid spending" (Taylor, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6).
During a Senate Budget Committee hearing, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle discussed provisions in the budget request that would seek to reduce spending and growth in entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. "Democrats have criticized those proposals, and Nussle challenged them to put their own ideas on the table," CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 2/5).
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, "The Medicare cuts are not realistic," adding, "I urge you to take another look at that, 'cause it's just not gonna happen" (Hess, CongressDaily, 2/5). Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "A realistic budget would reveal the surprising truth that the long-run problem is not an entitlements problem," adding, "It's a health care problem" (CQ Today, 2/5).
In other budget news, House Democrats are "bypassing FDA to score a budget proposal that reflects what they consider the real needs of the agency" after the budget request "left them scratching their heads," CongressDaily reports.
In a letter on Monday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) asked the FDA Science Board subcommittee on science and technology to determine the amount of funds required to modernize the agency.
They wrote, "We are deeply concerned that the budget submitted by the president is grossly inadequate to meet the many challenges at FDA as identified by the Science Board," adding, "It barely covers the cost of inflation and continues the trend of the inadequate budgets of previous years that have led to the current crisis at the agency" (Edney, CongressDaily, 2/6).
The U.S. can "maintain spending on valued domestic programs, preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Bush tax cuts and whittle the federal operating deficit to more reasonable levels" through a "modest amount of shared sacrifice and a willingness to ignore the scare tactics of special interest groups," Steven Pearlstein writes in a Washington Post opinion piece.
According to Pearlstein, "Medicare and Medicaid present the most difficult budget challenge." He recommends that lawmakers "limit the percentage of growth in spending for these programs each year to the growth in national income -- and leave it" to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission to "make the best use of that fixed -- but still generous -- budget." He writes, "Relying on MedPAC would free these programs from the political influence of the special interests -- providers, drug makers, insurers, advocates for the poor and the elderly -- who have fought off all attempts to rein in runaway entitlement spending."
In addition, among other proposals, Pearlstein recommends that lawmakers require military families and retirees to "make modest copayments on their health insurance and Medigap policies," a proposal that "could easily save $2 billion a year." He also recommends that lawmakers limit the tax deductibility of employer-sponsored health insurance (Pearlstein, Washington Post, 2/6).
C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" on Tuesday included a discussion with HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt about provisions in the budget request that would seek to reduce spending and growth in entitlement programs ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 2/5).
Video of the segment is available online.