The Senate stripped all Medicaid cuts, some $14 billion over five years, from its fiscal 2006 budget resolution, approving by a 52-48 vote an amendment sponsored by Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). The Medicaid cuts -- part of instructions to the Senate Finance Committee that it eliminate $15 billion from programs under its jurisdiction -- could be revived when members of the House and Senate meet next month to write a compromise budget resolution. The House is expected to complete a vote on its budget resolution, which includes up to $20 billion in Medicaid cuts, before recessing for two weeks beginning Monday. The Senate is expected to vote on its final resolution after the recess.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who supports President Bush in his effort to reduce 2006 Medicaid spending, said Democrats' claims that the cuts would hurt people were "absurd, misleading" and "just scare tactics." The Smith-Bingaman amendment would create a 23-member, bipartisan commission charged with making Medicaid-reform recommendations in one year. All 45 Senate Democrats voted for the amendment. They were joined by James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and six Republicans: Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (both of Maine), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Arlen Specter (Pa.). Earlier, the Senate voted 96-4 to approve an amendment eliminating a $8 increase in the drug copayment and a $250 enrollment fee for some veterans in the Veterans Affairs health system. -- by Ralph Loos