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Bill to Block Medicaid Regulations Readied for Senate Action

By Drew Armstrong, CQ Staff

April 25, 2008 -- A House-passed bill to block seven Bush administration Medicaid regulations has been fast-tracked for Senate floor action next week, but supporters will have to deal with mounting GOP opposition to the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday put the legislation (HR 5613) directly on the Senate floor calendar through the "Rule 14" parliamentary procedure, bypassing the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid.

An aide to Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Friday that the chairman had agreed with Reid's maneuver to expedite Senate consideration of the bill.

Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman Reid, said the majority leader and Baucus were still working out final details on the legislation.

The House passed the bill two days ago by 349–62, more than the two-thirds majority needed override a veto already threatened by the Bush administration.

It remains to be seen whether supporters have enough votes in the Senate, however. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, top Republican on the Finance Committee, has argued that the regulations should be implemented. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supports Grassley's position, which means Democrats could have their work cut out for them luring away enough Republicans to override a veto.

During Bush's two terms as president, Congress has overridden only one of his vetoes. That action came last year on a popular water resources bill (HR 1495).

The seven Medicaid regulations that the bill would block are designed to cut down on federal Medicaid dollars going to the states. The House bill would block their implementation until March 31, 2009.

The federal government now pays 57 percent of the Medicaid's costs—an estimated $204 billion in fiscal 2008. There has long been tension over who should bear more of the burden.

The administration contends that states are unfairly gaming the system to wring extra dollars out of the federal government and, in some cases, using the money for non-Medicaid purposes.

On April 23, Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said he was "quite confident there will be significant resistance in the Senate" to the measure.

Governors say the states have addressed the problems and the new rules would unfairly deprive them of funds.

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