- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003


The rival Medicare prescription drug bills that cleared the two chambers of Congress last month exceeded President Bush’s spending limits, officials said yesterday in disclosures likely to complicate efforts to reach a compromise.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) tentatively calculated the Senate-passed measure at $462 billion over 10 years, including $40 billion for one provision that aides said is likely to be jettisoned. The cost of the House-passed bill was pegged at $408 billion.

Mr. Bush has placed a $400 billion, 10-year limit on legislation to add prescription drug benefits and modernize the 38-year-old health care program for seniors.

Key House Republican committee chairmen who disclosed the new estimates pledged that any compromise would be within the limit set by the White House. “We remain committed to strengthening and improving Medicare,” said Republican Reps. Bill Thomas of California and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, the lead Senate negotiator, agreed. He also said he hoped Mr. Bush would set a firm date for wrapping up compromise talks.

The new cost estimates came as negotiators for the two chambers reported progress toward agreement on a technical, relatively undisputed section of the legislation dealing with Medicare contracting, patient appeals and other regulatory matters. Senior lawmakers hope to be able to announce a tentative agreement on that portion of the legislation within a day or two, as part of an effort to demonstrate tangible progress before Congress begins a long summer vacation.

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