Congressional Republicans will debate a series of budget bills this summer, including Medicare and Medicaid reform measures, under a plan being considered by House GOP leaders.
Together the individual bills would resemble the balanced-budget plan passed by Congress but vetoed by President Clinton last year. The bills would balance the federal budget over six years from fiscal 1997 through 2002.
Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), a member of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said the new Medicare reform plan would be close to the last Republican offer that was on the table in January when budget negotiations with the White House collapsed. That plan called for Medicare spending growth to be slowed by $168 billion from 1996 to 2002 and Medicaid spending by $85 billion during the same period.
Since then, the Congressional Budget Office has lowered its projections of Medicare and Medicaid spending through 2002 by a combined $30 billion from fiscal 1997 through 2002. The CBO now estimates Medicare spending will increase from $196 billion this year to $329 billion in 2002. Medicaid spending is projected to rise from $96 billion this year to $167 billion in 2002.
Johnson's scenario is bolstered by a series of GOP memos leaked over the past two weeks that call for projected Medicare spending to be reduced by $168 billion and Medicaid by $85 billion, the same reductions as in the earlier GOP budget plans. A House Budget Committee memo argues that by breaking the balanced-budget bill into separate initiatives it would be harder for the White House to block them.
A GOP staff aide who asked not to be identified confirmed that one of the leading options being considered was to break Medicare and Medicaid out separately, but the aide said "no final decisions have been made."
Johnson said any plan the GOP offered likely would have the support of the group of conservative Democrats known as the "Blue Dogs."
Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), one of the leaders of the Blue Dogs, said his group had been negotiating with House Republicans and the two factions were close to an agreement on many issues including Medicare. However, Condit said the Blue Dogs would support Medicare reforms only as part of a balanced-budget plan and would not agree to splitting the balanced-budget bill into separate measures.