Providers Lament Congress’ Inaction on Medicare ‘Givebacks’
The decision by Congress not to address pending budget bills until after Thanksgiving has "distressed" health care providers eager to see the $31 million Medicare "givebacks" legislation approved, CongressDaily reports. The measure "remains firmly stuck in the Senate as part of the $240 billion tax bill," and Republican House leaders have indicated that the only way the Medicare legislation will become law is if the Senate passes the tax bill and President Clinton signs it. This occurrence "looks increasingly unlikely," as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has threatened to filibuster the tax bill over its provision that would effectively overrule Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law. In addition, Clinton has stated he will veto the tax bill in its current form, in part because he believes the Medicare provisions give too much money to HMOs and not enough to providers. Hoping to overcome this gridlock, hospitals this week began running a fourth series of ads urging the legislative and executive branches to restore funding to providers that was reduced by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. The ads depict a nurse saying, "If Congress doesn't do its job, my patients may suffer," adding that Congress and the president "have one last chance to do something about a problem that is getting worse every day" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 11/14).
In other Capitol Hill news, House Democrats and Republicans "unanimously reelected their leaders yesterday, rewarding them for a fierce partisan battle that ended largely in a draw." The Republican leadership did change slightly, as Rep. Barbara Cubin (Wyo.) "won the sixth-ranking post of Republican Conference secretary as Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio) moved up to fill the vacant spot of conference vice chair." On the Democratic side, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (R.I.) has stated his intention to step down from the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but Democratic leaders are attempting to persuade him to keep his position (Eilperin, Washington Post, 11/15). Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats said yesterday that if the Senate ends up in a 50-50 split between parties, they will pursue obtaining an "equal number of seats on committees and possibly co-chairmanships." An even division of the Senate hinges on two outcomes. First, Maria Cantwell (D) must be declared the winner in the Washington Senate race. As of yesterday, however, Sen. Slade Gorton (R) had a slight lead over Cantwell with absentee ballots still being counted. Second, Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) must become president, since a victory for Vice President Al Gore would mean Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) would have to give up his seat, thereby allowing Connecticut's Republican governor to appoint his replacement. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said that although he had not discussed equal division of committee assignments with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), "We really have every expectation that we are going to be able to resolve this in a bipartisan, practical way." He added, "My initial feeling is there ought to be co-chairs." Lott said that he "would not entertain the notion" of an even split until the Washington race is decided. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), referring to the fact that under a 50-50 split, Dick Cheney would cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate as vice president, rejected the proposal, saying, "The majority always rules." Daschle responded that "the vice president is not a member of the Senate. If that membership is split 50-50, there is no recourse but to allow committees to be split 50-50." According to the
New York Times, the Democrats are willing "to create gridlock" to see this proposal through, a tactic that would "strain the bounds of partisanship" in an already narrowly divided Senate (Alvarez, New York Times, 11/15).