MEDICARE: White House Portrays Dichotomy with Tax Cuts
As the full Senate prepares to begin debate today on its version of a $792 billion tax cut, the White House as expected yesterday unveiled a study stressing the importance of Medicare for older women. Painting the issue as one of tax cuts versus shoring up Medicare, President Clinton said, "I ask you to help me send the word to the Congress that let's do first things first. Let's fix Medicare. The women of America especially need it." He added, "I can tell you that if this tax cut passes there will be breathtaking cuts in every area of our national life that you would believe was important" (Love, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/28). "Sounding very much like the Senate candidate that she has all but announced she is," First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "[W]omen rely more on Medicare than men and are, therefore, more vulnerable to changes in Medicare policies" (Bazinet, New York Daily News, 7/28). And House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), from a separate statement issued yesterday, said, "The Republicans made a choice: help their special interests and wealthy contributors with a tax break rather than extend the life of the Medicare trust fund. The Senate can reverse the priorities of the House Republicans by getting rid of the special interest tax breaks and making Medicare a priority in their tax bill" (release, 7/27). House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Archer (R-TX) called the claims "ludicrous," saying, "Republicans are committed to saving Social Security, strengthening Medicare and including a prescription drug benefit for needy beneficiaries" (release, 7/27).
Today, Sens. John Chafee (R-RI), Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and John Breaux (D-LA) are expected to offer a $500 billion tax-cut measure of their own (Norton/Earle, CongressDaily/A.M., 7/28). The Washington Times reports that "debate should last two days with no major changes likely" from the bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee last week. If the bill passes, "House and Senate tax writers will immediately begin negotiations to work through the many differences in the two versions of the bill" (Godfrey/Cain, 7/28).
Sperling Says No to Competition
Separately, White House National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling yesterday dismissed the possibility of competition between traditional fee-for-service Medicare and Medicare+Choice, as envisioned by Republicans and Sen. Breaux. Sperling said, "If the question is, will we accept including traditional Medicare into the program in a way that we think would raise the premium 10, 20%, the answer is no, we would not be for that. When you raise people's premiums, you're not really giving them choice, you're trying to financially coerce them. And that difference between choice and financial coercion is non-negotiable for us" (Koffler/Earle, CongressDaily, 7/27).
Big Pharma Rolls Out Big Guns
The pharmaceutical industry today begins its long-expected ad barrage against possible drug price controls as a feature of Medicare reform. The multimillion-dollar national advertising campaign is sponsored by Citizens for Better Medicare, an industry-backed coalition that includes the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and several disease specific advocacy groups (Morgan, Washington Post, 7/28). The ads feature an elderly woman named "Flo," who says, "[T]hanks to the new medicines my doctor prescribed, the last thing on my mind is my arthritis. ... Two-thirds of America's seniors have prescription drug coverage. ... But what about seniors who don't have prescription drug coverage? Something ought to be done ... [but] I don't want big government in my medicine cabinet!" (ad text, Washington Post, 7/28). Tim Ryan, the coalition's executive director, said, "We think she resonates. You need to break through the clutter and we think Flo does that." But Martin Corry, AARP's director of federal affairs, said, "They are a little more subtle about it now, but fundamentally their position is still the status quo. There's no evidence that they've really changed" (Post, 7/28).