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Democrats Just Say No to Medicaid Commission

MAY 26, 2005 -- House and Senate Democrats said Thursday they would not appoint members of their party to a commission charged with finding $10 billion in cuts to Medicaid, the federal–state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt will appoint up to 15 voting and 15 non-voting members to the commission, while lawmakers of both parties were asked to appoint eight members to serve in non-voting positions.

"An invitation to Democrats to select four members of the Senate and House to advisory roles without a vote is wholly inadequate to lend any commission even the air of bipartisanship," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.

Pelosi, Reid, and other Democrats said they opposed a requirement that the commission make recommendations by Sept. 1 on how to reduce federal spending on Medicaid by $10 billion. "Regrettably, the primary initial charge of the administration's commission is to engage in a budget-driven, rather than policy-driven, exercise to produce $10 billion in 'scorable' Medicaid cuts," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., said in a statement.

HHS Spokesman Craig Stevens said Leavitt was "disappointed" by the Democrats' decision "but it does not deter his commitment to have a fair, balanced, open, and bipartisan commission."

The commission was a compromise struck between the Bush administration and Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., who succeeded in March in stripping a provision from the Senate budget resolution that would have directed the Finance Committee to cut $15 billion over five years, almost all of it from Medicaid.

In talks with the White House and Senate GOP leaders, Smith agreed to accept $10 billion in Medicaid cuts if a presidential commission were created to recommend ways to wring savings from the program without hurting beneficiaries.

While Smith and other lawmakers urged the administration to give the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine the power to administer the panel, Leavitt did not. Nor did he give members of Congress power to appoint voting members of the commission, as the lawmakers had requested.

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