MEDICARE REFORM: Clinton Takes Drug Plan on the Road
"In a pitch aimed at Congress as much as to the outwardly grateful seniors" gathered in Chicago to hear him speak, President Clinton yesterday began in earnest a public-relations campaign for his Medicare reform package. He said, "This is not a political issue anywhere in America, and it should not be a political issue in Washington. ... If we were creating Medicare today, no one would ever consider not having a prescription drug benefit. We have the money. This is simply a matter of choice" (Claiborne, Washington Post, 7/1). And in a clear pot-shot at congressional Republicans, he said if reform "is not done, it is because somebody else made a different decision to do something else with the money" (Pearson/Mendell, Chicago Tribune, 7/1). He added, "No one escapes time and age. Republicans age just like Democrats" (Sobieraj, AP /Boston Globe, 7/1).
Meanwhile, Republicans yesterday tried to sound a "conciliatory" tone, but "are preparing to take the gloves off when they return to their districts for the July 4 break" (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 7/1). In a joint statement issued yesterday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said, "We share the president's concern that no senior citizen should be forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying the bills or buying prescription drugs." But, they added, "We should be careful not to force those who already have prescription drug coverage to accept a government-run plan that costs more and provides fewer choices." House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) said, "It's been the tradition in the president's party to do one size fits all. If you have 31% of people with a problem, you ought to put together a 31% solution, not a 100% solution" (Espo, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/1). Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) said the "president is cutting standard Medicare benefits by a staggering $74.5 billion in order to mask the costs of the new benefit. Instead of taking $100 billion out of the program, Republicans think we need to put a little money back into the program." But Thomas, chair of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said he will hold hearings as soon as he receives the president's bill. Such policy considerations, however, may soon give way to politics, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. "Yesterday, the president proposed his plan for Medicare reform. Now it is our turn to dispose of it," said a list of talking points delivered at a House GOP Conference meeting yesterday. The talking points note that Republicans "need to be careful on how we approach this issue. In the latest polls, we have the lead among senior citizens. The president is trying to win seniors back by giving them free drugs. We shouldn't be too negative, but we can raise questions about the president's plan" (7/1).