Gingrich, Democrats eye Medicaid change A DAY WITH THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE

January 14, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun Staff writer Mark Matthews contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Democratic chairman of the National Governors Association have agreed to consider limiting federal contributions to the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled in return for greater state control, Mr. Gingrich said yesterday.

The Republican leader said he and Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont reached an "agreement in principle" Thursday quickly to research and refine the concept, which could save the federal government $40 billion to $90 billion over five years by restraining the growth of one of its most expensive programs.

"We ought to be able to find a way to do it," the Georgia Republican said during an interview with editors and reporters of The Sun.

During the wide-ranging 75-minute interview, Mr. Gingrich also:

* Reaffirmed his intention to take a second look the question of whether legal immigrants should be denied welfare benefits, despite the assertion Thursday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer of Texas that the issue was settled in favor of denial.

Mr. Gingrich said he is sympathetic to concerns raised by Mr. Archer and others about the need to find ways to balance the budget. He also said he supports efforts to prevent fraud and abuse by people who promise to sponsor immigrants for five years but abandon them to the welfare system after two years.

But he added, "I'd rather find a way that we are not just blindly being anti-immigrant or being seen in ethnic communities as being indifferent to their sensitivity."

Mr. Gingrich said he will bring Mr. Archer and other committee leaders together next week with Republican House members who represent large immigrant communities "to talk this thing out."

* Demanded a halt to more than two years of working with European allies to solve the Bosnia conflict.

He said he had advised President Clinton to tell the Europeans that if they didn't want to take the lead, the United States would act on its own to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims and pay for their military training. Bosnian Serbs, widely seen as aggressors in the nearly 3-year-old war, should be told bluntly that "they're going to lose," Mr. Gingrich said.

But he insisted that actual training wouldn't be done by Americans. "You hire Turks, or you hire Egyptians" -- both strong supporters of the Bosnians -- he said. Great powers historically have subcontracted certain military tasks, he said.

* Condemned United Nations operations as "humiliating" in the former Yugoslavia and incompetent elsewhere, and said the United States should support U.N. peacekeeping "only in places that don't matter to this country."

"Would you like to be told the U.N. is going to protect Baltimore and do the same job it's done for Sarajevo?" he asked.

He characterized the world body as a spendthrift "debating society" and accused the Clinton administration of hiding behind the United Nations to the point where the United States has come to resemble "a helpless giant."

* Said the Republicans aim to expose the "huge hidden subsidies" that the United States makes to U.N. peacekeeping in the form of transportation for peacekeepers and equipment.

"We get a double hit," he complained. Clinton administration officials and congressional Democrats fear that the GOP-sponsored National Security Restoration Act, if passed, would gut peacekeeping worldwide by counting these costs against the U.S. share of expenses.

* Predicted Congress would insist that Mexico accept "pro-growth" conditions in return for the U.S. Treasury's $40 billion package of loan guarantees. The guarantees, announced Thursday, are designed to bail Mexico out of its currency crisis and shore up the peso.

* Asserted that the killing of an American soldier in Haiti on Thursday -- the first during the U.S. occupation that began last fall over the objection of Mr. Gingrich and others -- is no reason to pull out the troops.

"To send the signal around the world, 'Kill an American and they'll leave,' is a very dangerous pattern," he said.

* Declared he would stay out of the jockeying for the Republican presidential nomination, confining himself to the traditional speaker's role of chairing the party convention.

"I wouldn't endorse anybody," said Mr. Gingrich, who has to work daily with at least two of the likely contenders -- Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.

Mr. Dean, the Vermont governor, said in a telephone interview that he is "very interested" in the Medicaid proposal because it would free the states from many federal mandates, allowing them the freedom to better manage health care costs.

"But I need to talk to the other governors and have the staff take a look at it," he said.

The prospect of a bipartisan plan for limiting Medicaid could be a major breakthrough for budget-cutters at both the state and federal level.

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