TAX CUT: Medicare Drug Benefit Provision Defeated
On a day that saw the Senate defeat a proposal to make the Roth tax bill more closely mirror the House bill and scuttle an attempt to pass a compromise $500 billion tax cut, the chamber also killed an amendment to send Roth's bill back to the Finance Committee with instructions to provide a drug benefit for seniors (Norton, CongressDaily/A.M., 7/30). During a parliamentary maneuver, the provision garnered only 45 votes, including one Republican -- "far below the 60 votes it needed" (Espo, AP/Nando Times, 7/30). Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who introduced the amendment, said, "This debate is about priorities. New tax breaks are a priority for the Republicans. Prescription drugs for senior citizens are not." But Republicans defended the vote on the grounds "that the tax cut debate is not the proper forum for addressing the Medicare issue. They said that any new benefit should be considered as part of a broader effort to prepare Medicare for the retirement of the baby boom generation" (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 7/30). The Senate also defeated 54-46 a measure by Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA) and Bob Graham (D-FL) that would have delayed a tax cut "until the solvency of Social Security and Medicare programs had been assured" (Pianin/Dewar, Washington Post, 7/30). CongressDaily reports that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) also introduced an amendment to recommit the bill to the Finance Committee with instructions to return $20 billion to health care providers to offset Medicare reimbursement cuts in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Rovner, 7/29).
Also yesterday, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) said the GOP will not attempt to broker a deal with President Clinton on tax cuts before they send him their bill. Armey said, "Why should I say I'll deal with you unless you show me your cards? If he wants to say, 'I reject your ideas but I'm willing to offer something else,' that's different. He can either sign the bill or he can veto the bill" (Lambro, Washington Times, 7/30).
Black and White
At a news conference yesterday, Democrats continued to hammer home their point that the debate is one of tax cuts versus Medicare. Under a banner reading "Democrats Protect Medicare," congressional Democrats and HHS Secretary Donna Shalala "decried the tax bill as endangering the popular program for the elderly and disabled." Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said, "Tomorrow marks Medicare's 34th anniversary. Unfortunately in Congress, we're celebrating Medicare's 34th anniversary the same way we celebrated Medicare's 30th anniversary: by fighting to keep it alive" (CongressDaily, 7/29).