Fury over US health cuts heralds bitter poll battle

To a cascade of abuse from Democrats, the Republicans in Congress yesterday presented their plans to overhaul Medicare, the federal health-care programme for the elderly and disabled - igniting a political controversy which will dominate this autumn's battle over the federal budget and loom large over the entire 1996 election campaign.

Under the proposals unveiled by Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans aim to lop $270bn (pounds 175bn) from projected spending on Medicare over the next seven years, the biggest single component of the party's scheme to balance the federal budget by 2002. They intend to do so by a mixture of cost controls, higher premiums and incentives to recipients to switch to lower-cost alternatives.

Insisting that the scheme, which serves 38 million Americans, is facing bankruptcy early next century, Mr Gingrich said his party wanted to "preserve Medicare, to protect Medicare and to strengthen Medicare". For Democrats, however, the Republicans are simply slashing help for the old and infirm to pay for tax cuts for the better-off.

"This is a legislative joke, a disaster," Tom Daschle, the Senate Democrat leader, proclaimed of the 30-page Republican document, which contains no itemised accounting of how the savings will be achieved. Richard Gephardt, his opposite number in the House of Representatives, predicted "one of the biggest fights in congressional history".

More important, it is a fight in which Democrats believe that finally, both right and electoral advantage are on their side. Unlike welfare, where a majority of voters support the harsh reforms endorsed by senators of both parties this week, Medicare is hugely popular. President Bill Clinton has served notice that defence of Medicare will be a key part of his re-election platform, as Democrats seek to depict their opponents as cost-cutters with no heart, inflicting sacrifices on society's weaker elements to finance the $189bn of tax cuts in the "Contract with America".

Even before yesterday, tempers on Capitol Hill were exploding over Medicare reform, as Sam Gibbons of Florida, a senior House Democrat, stormed out of a committee meeting shouting that Republicans were "a bunch of dictators" in refusing him the right to speak. Later Republican and Democratic legislators almost came to blows in the corridor outside.

The Medicare proposals, on which the Republicans plan hearings today, come on top of separate Republican plans to pare back Medicaid, the federal health scheme for the poor, by $180bn. This would be achieved essentially by handing back control of Medicaid to the states, in the shape of block grants comparable to those that will replace existing federal welfare programmes. These lump sums could be spent as the states wished - thus ending the days of Medicaid, like welfare, as an "entitlement" available to anyone who qualifies.

The stage is thus set for an emotional confrontation which could derail a budget compromise this autumn. Mr Clinton concedes some reform of both health schemes is needed, but says he will veto any Medicare cuts remotely resembling the Republican proposals. Hard-line Republicans retort they are ready to block an increase in the federal debt ceiling if they do not get their way, raising the spectre of a US Treasury default some time in November.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence