Congress Daily, September 21, 2007: Stark Slams Decision To Separate SCHIP, Medicare Plans

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House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., is not happy with House leaders’ decision to break apart a bill addressing children’s health care and Medicare, and he is letting his fellow House members know it.
In a letter sent Thursday to “Democratic colleagues,” Stark said abandoning the Medicare portions of the House bill “for political and/or rhetorical reasons that are unclear to me” puts in danger a number of Medicare changes, including financial help for low-income seniors, improved preventative health benefits and a halt to a physicians’ fee cut.
“I’m sure there was no intention to betray the trust you placed in our committee,” Stark wrote, adding that he believes leaders have ignored the allegiance of many advocacy groups, including AARP, the American Medical Association, Families USA, and the American Hospital Association, that lent their support in passing the House bill.
The House will vote next week on a bill to add $35 billion to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The measure mirrors a Senate bill passed this year, winnowing the broader $90 billion House version, which added $50 billion to SCHIP and included Medicare provisions.
“I want to assure you and them that I had no part in backing away from my commitment to you in requesting your support,” the letter said.
Stark told CongressDaily Thursday that he would ask leaders to retain the children’s health/Medicare package after the president vetoes the smaller measure. “The bill is still there. If we don’t override, which we probably will not, then we’re back where we were.”
Stark does not understand the Democrats’ drive to force President Bush’s hand by vetoing the bill. “It’s unnecessarily divisive. If we wanted to draw a veto, my constituents would rather draw a veto on Iraq,” he said.
At a news conference Thursday, Speaker Pelosi defended the decision to strip the Medicare provisions from the original House-passed SCHIP bill.
“This bill is just bifurcated,” she said. “We will be going forward with another bill that will contain the stopping [of] the privatization of Medicare.”
She was referring to provisions in the original House bill that cut private Medicare Advantage plans.
Pelosi acknowledged that the Medicare Advantage cuts represented tough votes for some in her Caucus whose constituents rely on those plans, but she insisted that forcing the issue was not a mistake.
“I will never, as I said to my Caucus, confine the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the American people to what we can pass legislatively on any given day of the week. It is called the legislative process. We will do it in two stages instead of one,” she said.
Stark and Ways and Means Chairman Rangel have predicted that passing a Medicare bill without SCHIP will be difficult, if not impossible, in the House.
“There’s no question that the pieces are not as potent a piece of legislation as a whole,” Stark said. “It will be more difficult.” By Fawn Johnson

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