MEDICARE ‘GIVEBACKS’: Clinton Maintains Veto Threat
The "fragile" budget compromise between President Clinton and Congress "fell apart" yesterday after the president vowed to veto a House-passed, $240 billion tax bill, which includes a provision that would restore about $30 billion in Medicare funds to providers and HMOs, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. While GOP leaders touted the legislation as a "compromise," Clinton "caught Republicans by surprise" and pledged to reject the bill (Koszczuk, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27). "While we have already reached substantial agreement in important areas ... your legislation has substantial flaws," Clinton wrote in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), adding, "I will have no choice but to veto it." Hastert said, "We have bent over backwards to make this bill acceptable to the president." While the House passed the tax legislation 273-174, Republicans remain 38 votes short of the two-thirds margin required to override a Clinton veto. Republicans predicted that Clinton would "grudgingly" sign the bill, pointing to the "muddled messages" emanating from the White House, although they admitted the legislation would "cause the president some heartburn." According to one lobbyist, "You didn't see the ceremonial chest pounding that typically precedes a veto threat" (Godfrey, Washington Times, 10/27). GOP leaders, however, "underestimated Clinton's willingness to use his veto pen" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27). Although Hastert accused Clinton and Democrats of playing "politics," the administration said that the GOP knew it "was picking a fight" (Rogers et al., Wall Street Journal, 10/27). Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.) concluded, "It sounds like it's his way or the highway" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27).
Medicare Sticking Point
Among the list of White House complaints, the "largest objection" to the bill resulted from a provision that would provide spending increases to Medicare payers and providers, including $11.1 billion for HMOs, a measure that Clinton said ignores "critical investments in beneficiaries and vulnerable health care providers" (Washington Times, 10/27). The president added that the provision hurts providers with an "unjustifiable spending increase for HMOs" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27). House Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) agreed, noting, "This bill is a giant, gargantuan handout to HMOs." According to Republicans, however, the legislation would halt the current exodus of health plans from the Medicare program and "does not come at the expense" of health care providers ( Reuters/Houston Chronicle, 10/26). Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the main sponsor of the Medicare "giveback" provision, asked, if the bill hurts "vulnerable health providers," then "why are they all writing letters of support for the bill?"
Senate No Lock Either
The tax bill, which the Senate will tackle today, also faces a threatened filibuster from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who objects to a provision that would effectively overturn Oregon's landmark assisted-suicide law (Washington Times, 10/27). Even if Senate Republicans pass the bill, however, they will not have enough votes to override a presidential veto and fear "there may be no chance for a second try" this year. "I told [Clinton], 'Mr. President, I don't think we can lift the tax bill again," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said, recounting a phone conversation urging Clinton to sign the legislation (Wall Street Journal, 10/27). Some Republicans said that they "were ready to give up" on budget legislation this year, preferring to return to their home states to campaign for the impending November election, with time to "repair the breach" growing "short" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27). GOP members also accused the Democrats of a "'Hail Mary' pass" to "try to stir supporters" with the election approaching. Meanwhile, Republicans plan to run ads "attacking" Democrats who opposed the tax bill and will target New York U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), because the president's veto would "jeopardize" health care funding for the state (Wall Street Journal, 10/27).