GOP Votes Huge Cuts In Medicare

WASHINGTON -- Taking a giant step toward its goal of producing a balanced budget in seven years, the Republican-controlled House has approved a Medicare bill that would vastly reshape the 30-year-old health insurance program for older Americans.

The complex legislation -- debated and passed Thursday without any public hearings -- would yield $270 billion in savings by 2002, largely by curtailing payments to doctors and hospitals, increasing out-of-pocket payments for beneficiaries and channeling seniors into less expensive managed-care systems.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the vote "a big step in the right direction.'' Even so, the plan faces many obstacles in the weeks ahead. The debate now shifts to the Senate, where it will run up against an array of powerful special interests that have chosen to make their fight in that more deliberative body. It also faces a veto threat that President Bill Clinton renewed even before the House vote.

"I will not let you destroy Medicare, and I will veto this bill,'' Clinton said at a White House news conference. "I have to do that to protect the people of the United States and to protect the integrity of this program.'' Clinton has proposed $124 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years.

The bill was approved on a largely party-line vote of 231-201, with all but six Republicans supporting it and all but four Democrats voting against it.

To counter Democratic charges that much of the GOP's projected Medicare savings are intended to pay for a $245 billion tax cut, House Republicans incorporated into their bill a "lockbox'' provision that bars any of the savings from the Part B doctors insurance fund from being used for the proposed tax cut. Earlier, the Senate Finance Committee embraced a similar provision in the Senate GOP Medicare bill.

Even so, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle accused the Republicans of "raiding Medicare and Medicaid to dole out huge new tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the country.''