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White House: GOP Medicare Plan Doomed

August 23, 1995|JACK NELSON | TIMES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON — While House Republicans are trying to convince the public that they can reduce growth in Medicare costs by $270 billion, key Senate leaders are conceding that the plan will never make it through the relevant Senate committees, the White House said Tuesday.

Mike McCurry, President Clinton's press secretary, said that "just about everybody" agrees the House plan is doomed and "privately, it's what some of the Republican chairs of the relevant committees are telling us."

McCurry, interviewed at a Times Washington Bureau breakfast session, predicted that Republicans will try to resolve differences over Medicare cuts--which are crucial to the GOP's plans to curb federal spending--by calling for a meeting of key players on the budget or "some gigantic reconsideration of where we are on the budget."

McCurry declined to identify the committee chairmen who had conceded that the House plan is dead. But Senate Republican sources said Finance Chairman Bob Packwood of Oregon and Budget Chairman Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, whose committees are key to Medicare reform, have acknowledged that the House plan is in deep trouble and is unlikely to win Senate approval. With most Washington officials on vacation, neither chairman was available for comment.

Senate resistance to the House blueprint does not necessarily mean that nothing will come of the Republican effort to rein in Medicare. The Senate can fashion its own plan and attempt to reach a compromise with the House. But it does mean that the Medicare debate is likely to provide another severe test of GOP unity--a prospect that offers some comfort to a beleaguered White House.

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Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) has said that the Senate will get busy on the Medicare issue as soon as it reconvenes on Sept. 5 and hopes to come to an agreement before the end of September. He was not available for comment Tuesday.

McCurry also sharply attacked Dole, the early front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, for the way he is juggling his responsibilities as Senate leader and presidential candidate and for his criticism of Clinton's diplomatic approach to the Bosnian conflict.

As Dole has addressed Medicare and other crucial budget issues, McCurry declared, he has not been able to decide between "increasingly contradictory goals" of running for President and running the Senate. He suggested that Dole must decide whether he will do better in 1996 by demonstrating that, after four years of Democratic rule, Republicans know how to run Congress.

"The President's bet," he said, is that House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) already is opting for trying to demonstrate that the GOP can run the legislative branch in an orderly fashion and get things done but "it's not clear what choices Sen. Dole will make."

The major test for Dole, who has said that he has no plans to step down as majority leader while running for President, will come this fall as the Senate wrestles with Medicare, Medicaid, welfare reform and the budget, as well as appropriations bills and the debt ceiling.

On Bosnia, McCurry also charged that Dole, who has repeatedly criticized Clinton's diplomatic approach to the Bosnian conflict, "is badly miscalculating" by taking a complex issue that has bewildered the American public and using it as "grist for an effective argument to advance his own political case."

Dole has criticized Clinton's peace proposal and over the weekend he charged that Bosnian Serbs were "indirectly responsible" for the deaths of three American diplomats who were killed Saturday when their vehicle plunged off a mountain road.

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McCurry said he knew two of the victims and that for Dole to have "fraudulently" attacked the Clinton diplomatic approach on the weekend after the diplomats were killed was "very unfortunate."

A veteran of several presidential campaigns, McCurry acknowledged that Clinton is in deep political trouble but said that he is eager to get out on the campaign trail in 1996 and make his case for reelection to the American people.

McCurry told of watching a recent television network show that included a graph showing the states and electoral votes Clinton would lose in an election today and said: "Boy, you wanted to pull your head up under the covers and sleep in that day. But it's August of 1995. If we had the election tomorrow, we'd lose a huge pile of states. It wouldn't be a very pretty picture."

But the dynamic will be different during the 1996 campaign, he said, and Clinton is "reasonably confident that he can make a better argument than any of those other people who are mentioned or sometimes mentioned who are going to run against him."

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