Parties Spar Over Medicare

Posted July 24, 2008 at 5:47pm

House GOP leaders sounded alarms over “Medicare trigger” legislation set to hit the floor Thursday, saying they were caught off guard by Democrats scheduling the bill at the last minute and suggesting they did so to avoid having to talk about the program’s solvency. Democratic leaders countered that Republicans are setting off “false alarms about Medicare’s financing” and are more motivated by the goal of dismantling the program itself. The House is voting on legislation that would suspend for the 110th Congress a provision that requires Medicare cuts if general revenues are projected to exceed 45 percent of program spending within a seven-year window in two consecutive years. The provision, known as the “Medicare trigger,” requires the president to propose legislation to move general revenues back under the 45 percent threshold. If not, Medicare would be cut. An emergency Rules Committee hearing on the bill on Wednesday was the first that Republicans had heard of the bill coming to the floor on Thursday, according to GOP leadership aides. “Democrats sprung this at the last minute hoping no one would notice that they are ignoring Medicare’s financial woes,” said Nick Simpson, spokesman for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Blunt has warned that the Medicare trust fund will be bankrupt by 2019 if lawmakers don’t cut back on spending. “The millions of seniors that depend on Medicare won’t have the same luxury of simply ignoring their problems once Medicare goes bankrupt,” Simpson said. “Republicans are more than willing to work together in an effort to put Medicare on a path to economic stability, but sadly, Democrats are choosing to ignore tough debates for political expediency.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) chalked up the GOP complaints as a “phony, false alarm.” “Republicans have long sought to dismantle the Medicare program,” Hoyer said. The reality is that Medicare “was designed to be substantially financed by general revenues, not payroll taxes. The fact that a large portion of Medicare is financed by general revenues is not problematic.”