A balanced budget amendment that Congress plans to begin debating this week would derail healthcare reform and result in serious cuts in federal health programs, opponents say.
Critics of the measure include the Clinton administration and most provider groups.
At a congressional hearing last week, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said the plan, if ratified, would, "gouge Medicare and Medicaid" and make it impossible to finance healthcare reform.
"Let me assure those who believe both health reform and a balanced budget amendment are possible-they're dreaming," Ms. Shalala said.
A study released by the consumer group Families USA contended that a balanced budget amendment would require combined Medicare and Medicaid cuts of $123 billion in the year 2001 alone.
The Clinton administration already plans to cut $124 billion out of Medicare and Medicaid over five years to help pay for healthcare reform.
Jesse Brown, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the proposal would result in an across-the-board 11.4% cut in VA funds, meaning the loss of $4.2 billion.
Cuts of that magnitude would force the agency to close 20 VA medical facilities, Mr. Brown added.
Both the House and Senate must pass a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds vote. A bill in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), has 53 sponsors.
Proponents of the balanced budget amendment, which would prohibit the federal government from spending more money than it takes in, say that they have the votes to pass the plan. Provider groups fear they may be right.
"The vote counts are razor thin in the Senate," said Herb Kuhn, vice president for congressional and executive branch relations at the American Hospital Association. "If (Congress) can't do healthcare reform this year, they've got to have something to show (their constituents). The problem is this would pull resources out of the system that would best be used for healthcare reform."