A congressional commission's failure to agree on recommendations for cuts in entitlements foretells a legislative battle over Medicare spending in 1995.
The Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform last week voted 24-6, with two abstentions, to send President Clinton and congressional leaders a letter outlining members' proposals for controlling the federal deficit and keeping the Medicare trust fund solvent.
But the commission was unable to reach consensus on specific ways to limit entitlements. A week earlier, Chairman Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and Vice Chairman Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) floated a reform plan with cuts in Medicare provider payments. It failed to win a majority, as did other proposals for specific cuts.
There's no indication the incoming congressional leadership will touch Social Security. That leaves Medicare as the most likely target for the ax, said healthcare lobbyist Frederick Graefe.
But, he said, Republicans will want any savings from Medicare to go toward the deficit, while Democrats will want to divert the money to expand healthcare coverage for the poor.
"Entitlement reform is an airplane wreck and they're looking for the flight recorder," Mr. Graefe said.
Politically, any cuts will be tough. The public wants to protect Medicare and Social Security, without realizing those programs drive federal spending, said William Cox, vice president of government services at the Catholic Health Association.
An election-night survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard University School of Public Health illustrates the point. Only 10% of voters said the government should cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security to reduce the deficit. But nearly half of those surveyed said it would be acceptable to cut reimbursements for providers.