44 House Republicans object to Medicaid cuts

Their letter could hinder budget resolution passage

April 17, 2005|By Joel Havemann | Joel Havemann,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A letter signed by 44 House Republicans protesting proposed Medicaid cuts emerged Friday as a serious threat to plans by President Bush and GOP leaders to curtail spending on a range of benefit programs.

The Medicaid fight could hinder Congress' ability to pass this year's budget resolution, which sets spending for federal programs and includes a new round of tax cuts and legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

The House and Senate passed different versions of a fiscal 2006 budget a month ago, with four votes to spare in the House and two in the Senate. Formal negotiations to write a compromise budget have not begun, but Republican leaders and budget committee chairmen have met to try to work out a deal that could pass both chambers.

Congressional insiders said their job was made more difficult by the letter written by Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican, and signed by 43 other House Republicans. In it, they asked House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican, to abandon the effort to trim as much as $20 billion from the projected growth in Medicaid over the next five years.

Instead, the 44 Republicans endorsed a bipartisan commission to look for ways to restructure the program.

Wilson said the states, which run Medicaid jointly with Washington, operate it with a combined 2,500 waivers of the program's rules. "That tells me that it's time to change the rules," she said.

Her position is popular with the nation's governors. Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the National Governors' Association, told the Kaiser Family Foundation Thursday that it is time to take a serious look at restructuring Medicaid. Federal and state costs for the program are estimated at $338 billion for next year.

Bush proposed trimming $13 billion out of Medicaid's projected growth from 2006 to 2010. The House approved up to $20 billion in cuts in its version of the fiscal 2006 budget.

The Senate voted 51-49 to restore the Medicaid cuts recommended by its Budget Committee. That meant the issue would have become a point of contention between House and Senate negotiators even without the House Republicans' letter.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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