- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Democrats are refusing to participate in the commission to reform Medicaid, calling it a “fraud” because members of Congress would serve in only an advisory capacity.

“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 of California and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a joint statement yesterday.

The commission, created by Congress as part of the 2006 budget approved this month, is charged with finding ways to cut $10 billion out of the Medicaid program over five years. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt is to appoint the commission’s 15 voting members and 15 nonvoting medical professionals.

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The congressional leadership is supposed to appoint another eight nonvoting members, four Democrats and four Republicans. But Mrs. Pelosi was adamant that her party would not participate in what she called a “face-saver” for Republicans who don’t want to accept responsibility for proposing Medicaid cuts.

“I don’t think that the cuts in Medicaid are justified,” Mrs. Pelosi said at her weekly press conference yesterday. Republicans “were bought off with the fraud of a commission to say, ‘We’re going to look into how we cut $10 billion.’ Well, we don’t accept the fact that there should be a cut of $10 billion.”

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, said yesterday that he supports the decision to stay out of the commission.

“The action today by the Democratic House and Senate leadership should send a clear message that the Medicaid commission is nothing but a farce,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “The sole purpose of the commission is to carry out the administration’s proposed $10 billion in Medicaid cuts.”

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said: “It’s unfortunate that, once again, the Democrats have chosen to play partisan politics with an issue as important as the Medicaid commission.

“We should be doing everything we can to support the neediest of our society — the very poor and the very sick.”

He said congressional Republicans aren’t complaining about the lack of voting power on the commission because Congress will have “the ultimate vote” when the recommendations are presented.

“The process of coming up with these recommendations should be a politics-free zone,” Mr. Bonjean said.

Reforming Medicaid would be the third entitlement — after Medicare and Social Security — that congressional Republicans and the Bush administration have tackled.

Some prominent Democratic leaders, including former President Bill Clinton, have said it is a political mistake for Democrats to refuse to push their own ideas for entitlement reform because doing so paints Republicans and the president as reformers and Democrats as merely the defenders of the status quo.

Mrs. Pelosi dismissed that notion.

“I’m not concerned at all,” Mrs. Pelosi said, citing a briefing by Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, at which he told the Democratic leadership that refusing to present a Social Security reform plan is the right political course. “We have our plan. There are people who have served in office who always think they have the secret sauce.”

Mr. Bonjean countered that Democrats “have no idea what they are doing” when it comes to entitlement reform.

“They don’t have a plan,” Mr. Bonjean said. “I wouldn’t want them manning the barbecue this weekend because with them in charge, it would never even get started.”

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