Tax Cut Would ‘Leave No Room’ for Rx Benefit, Dems Say
Senate Democrats have "stepp[ed] up their argument" that President Bush's 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut package would "leave no room" in the FY 2002 budget for a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, CongressDaily reports. "Every 'yea' vote for the budget means a death knell for a prescription drug benefit for seniors," Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Friday (Fulton, CongressDaily, 3/2). He added, "These are the stakes, and the American people need to understand them -- tax cuts for the wealthy or prescription drugs for the elderly." According to Kennedy, Bush's proposal would "eat up" most of the budget surplus and leave "little or nothing" for a prescription drug benefit or other health initiatives. While Bush has earmarked $153 billion over 10 years for prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors, Democrats have proposed spending at least one-third of the surplus to extend a drug benefit to all Medicare beneficiaries (McQueen, AP/Nando Times, 3/3). "We need about $300 billion to do a real prescription drug bill," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said, arguing that Bush's budget "dips" into Medicare and Social Security to "pay for other priorities." Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) added that about half of seniors without drug coverage earn incomes at about 175% of the federal poverty level -- "too high" to qualify for coverage under Bush's plan (CongressDaily, 3/2). In addition, Kennedy said that Bush's budget "doesn't even have enough" funding for his prescription drug plan, pointing out that the proposal would cost $210 billion -- not $153 billion -- after adjusting pharmaceutical costs for inflation.
Republicans, however, argue that Bush's budget package "leaves ample money" to fund a tax cut, Social Security and Medicare, including a prescription drug benefit. Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that the federal government will spend $3.8 trillion on Medicare during the next decade, adding, "This is almost three times the size of any tax relief package, so to suggest that the president's budget shortchanges older Americans is unfair." Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the first part of Bush's tax package -- a 10-year, $1 trillion across-the-board reduction -- which the full House will likely consider on Thursday (AP/Nando Times, 3/3).
However, both Republicans and Democrats expect the "real battle" to occur in the "bitterly divided" Senate, prompting Bush to "moun[t] an all-out campaign" to "press" conservative and moderate Democrats to back his plan (Bruni/Mitchell, New York Times/Contra Costa Times, 3/5). Vice President Cheney predicted that the tax proposal would pass both houses "with votes to spare," but he conceded that Republicans would likely win with a slim margin in the Senate. "I'll bet most [lawmakers] will vote for it on final passage," he said, adding, "I would really enjoy casting the tie-breaking vote in the Senate" (Washington Times, 3/5). Public opinion also may have shifted in favor of Bush's tax proposal, which has prompted "worry" among some Democrats. After Bush's speech last Tuesday, a Gallup poll found that 83% of respondents ranked tax cuts as a "top" or "high" priority, and 72% of those polled by CBS News said that they backed Bush's tax cut proposal (Sawyer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.