GOP Leaders, Clinton Move Closer to $108.9B Agreement on Labor-HHS Bill, Medicare ‘Giveback’ Bill
The White House reported Dec. 11 that President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders have moved closer to a $108.9 billion agreement on the "contentious" FY 2001 Labor-HHS appropriations bill -- a deal that provided the "first hints" of a "breakthrough" in negotiations, the New York Times reports. "We believe we have agreement on a framework on health and education spending," White House spokesperson Elliot Diringer said, adding, "We need to flesh out the details." Michele Davis, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), confirmed the statement. Under the framework, Congress would provide $108.9 billion for the Department of Labor, the Department of Education and HHS, while cutting $1 billion from other appropriations. The bill would provide $13 billion more than Congress allocated for education, health and labor programs last year, but $5 billion less than the White House had proposed (Pear, New York Times, 12/12). In addition, Republicans agreed to fund a $30 billion-plus, five-year Medicare "giveback" bill and to halt efforts to block ergonomics rules issued by the Clinton administration (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/12). As for Medicaid, the compromise could allow states to have "greater flexibility" to extend Medicaid coverage to help low-income mothers, although Republicans continue to block efforts to provide Medicaid coverage for low-income disabled children whose parents' income exceeds the federal poverty level. The bill would also provide "record funding" for medical research (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 12/12). House and Senate leaders hope to pass the legislation as early as Dec. 14 (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/12).
Still Not a Done Deal
While congressional leaders and the White House remain hopeful that the package will pass, both Republicans and Democrats "downplay[ed]" the deal, which has "eluded lawmakers for months," fearing that liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans may oppose the legislation, the Washington Times reports. On Dec. 7, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said he could accept a Labor-HHS package that allocated no more than $105 billion, but DeLay spokesperson Jonathan Baron said Dec. 11 that DeLay would offer a definitive statement when "all aspects [of the package] are known" (Washington Times, 12/12). Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) called the agreement a "shakedown," but said the bill would likely pass (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/12). But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "I would hope we'll be done this week. We're moving toward an agreement, but we're not there yet" (New York Times, 12/12).
Stopping a 'Drastic Mistake'?
Prior to the White House announcement, several health and education groups held a rally on Dec. 11, urging Congress to approve the pending Labor-HHS bill and not to pass a long term continuing resolution or renegotiate the package, CongressDaily reports. Speaking at the event, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called the current legislation a "true bipartisan appropriations bill," warning that Republican efforts to "put off or dramatically reduc[e]" the package would jeopardize a $2.75 billion increase for NIH research and funds for CDC cancer screening programs, as well as allocations for several education programs (Fulton/Caruso, CongressDaily, 12/11). He added that "it would be a terrible, drastic mistake" not to provide the NIH with the 15% funding boost. According to Daniel Smith, vice president of the American Cancer Society, "With each day of delay, opportunity is lost for advancing new cancer clinical trials, drugs and cancer therapies that could be saving someone's life" (New York Times, 12/12). Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a "leader" in the GOP's moderate wing, circulated a letter signed by House Democrats and Republicans urging lawmakers to pass the current Labor-HHS bill. In addition, One Voice Against Cancer, a coalition of 48 cancer groups, planned to distribute small bottles of merlot to legislators -- a "reminder" of the merlot that negotiators uncorked after reaching an agreement in October -- with labels telling Congress to "stick to it" (CongressDaily, 12/11).