The Senate, on a 53-46 vote along party lines, last week approved the GOP balanced-budget plan, but signs were pointing to a repeat fiscal stalemate with the White House.
The GOP's 1997 budget blueprint would reduce projected Medicare spending by $168 billion and Medicaid by an additional $72 billion over six years. The Republican-controlled House passed a similar plan May 16 on a straight party-line vote.
Because the two plans are nearly identical, House and Senate GOP leaders are expected to have little trouble hammering out a consensus plan for the two chambers.
Reaching agreement with the Clinton administration is likely to be another matter, however.
Sounding themes they used over and over last year, Democrats attacked the GOP budget as "extremist" and criticized the level of Medicare and Medicaid spending reductions.
Some Republicans also said they feared the new budget would lead to a repeat of last year's impasse. Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he would seek to add back $1.5 billion to health programs to keep health appropriations at the same level as last year.
Provider groups said they expected that Medicare and Medicaid would again be two areas where it would be difficult to find agreement.
"I'm not sure either side really wants an agreement at this point," said Lawrence Goldberg, a partner with Deloitte & Touche in Washington. "Are they that far apart on the healthcare issues? The answer is no, yet they're light years apart on the political aspects of enacting a balanced budget."
Last week, the Senate also defeated several Democratic attempts to reduce the level of Medicare and Medicaid reductions by decreasing the $122 billion in tax cuts included in the plan.
In addition, senators rejected a plan created by a bipartisan group of 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats led by Sens. John Chafee (R-R.I.) and John Breaux (D-La.). Their plan would have reduced projected Medicare spending by $105 billion and Medicaid by $41 billion over six years. The measure failed on a vote of 46-53.