Eye on Washington

April 1, 2005

Staving off cuts to Medicaid, controlling emissions of mercury

Spring is a lovely time in the nation's capital city. The air is soft and daffodils and cherry trees bloom all over town. Members of Congress have just returned from their Easter recess, freshly informed of their constituents' views on the issues before them and ready to tackle knotty problems of budgetary constraints and social necessities.

President George W. Bush has been touring the country to drum up support for what he calls "personal Social Security accounts," but the opposition is rallying and most commentators see prospects of his success dimming. Congress seems unlikely to make headway on holding down the enormous federal deficit: Late last month, the Senate defeated the PAYGO (for "pay as you go") amendment to the 2006 budget resolution, cosponsored by Senators Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), whereby new programs could be enacted only if funding to carry them out was specified by spending cuts elsewhere or a tax increase.

One expense the administration hopes to cut back in 2006 is Medicaid, where a $14 billion reduction over five years has been proposed. But lawmakers of both parties know that cuts to Medicaid are deeply unpopular with voters and governors, and Senate Democrats managed to garner enough Republican support to get the cuts dropped from the upper-house version of the budget resolution.