July 30 deadline may be mirage

Thursday, July 31, 2003

ELYRIA, Ohio - Reconciliation between House and Senate versions of the Medicare reform legislation may not make the unofficial presidential deadline of July 30, according to remarks made by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) at fundraisers in late June.

“His words were,” said Dave Williams, director of government relations at Invacare, “’This is the largest substantial change in the Medicare program in over 35 years, and we’re not going to rush so we can have some symbolic signing, knowing that there are mistakes in it.’”

AAHomecare, in a “President’s Message e-mailed July 9th, reported that the Medicare reform debate may stretch into October.

President Bush, for whom passage of a prescription drug benefit package would give added firepower to a campaign for re-election, wants to sign a bill into law on July 30, the anniversary of the founding of Medicare.

Although the Senate bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support and passed in the full chamber 70-26, House Democrats believed the House package tilted too far toward the private sector while House Republicans believed it didn’t tilt far enough.

“This is a fragile agreement,” Sen. Max Baucus, (D-Mont.), who worked with Grassley on the bill, told Knight Ridder Newspapers. “If it alters very much one way or the other, we could lose it.”

If reconciliation is not possible, competitive bidding and a CPI-freeze would likely be tabled until the next Congress.

Since more Senate Democrats than Republicans are up for re-election next year, a stymied bill would help Democratic re-election prospects. Members of the House, said Williams, want to “jam this through because they are all up for re-election.” HME