Task Force To Address Problems With Financial Stability Of Entitlement Programs

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Financial Stability Of Medicare

Senate Budget CommitteeChair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) onTuesday introduced a bill that would require the next Congress toaddress problems with the long-term financial stability of Medicare andother entitlement programs, CQ Today reports. Thelegislation would establish a bipartisan, 16-member task forcecomprised of lawmakers and Bush administration officials that wouldmake recommendations to address the issue by Dec. 9, 2008.

Thetask force would include 14 lawmakers; the secretary of the Departmentof Treasury, who would chair the committee; and a second administrationofficial selected by the president. Recommendations from the task forcewould require approval by at least 12 members.

Under the bill,lawmakers would have to introduce the recommendations as legislation inthe next Congress, and both the House and Senate would have to considerthe legislation after they reconvene in January 2009. Lawmakers couldnot amend the legislation, which would require a three-fifths majorityto pass in both the House and Senate.

Conrad said that he hasnot determined whether the committee will mark up the bill or he andGregg will seek to move the legislation directly to the Senate floorfor a vote (Clarke, CQ Today, 9/18). Jim Manley, aspokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said thatthe bill "raises some serious questions," such as whether lawmakersshould "entrust the future of health care, Social Security, our taxsystem and perhaps even Iraq to a small group of individuals whoserecommendations could be moved through Congress without meaningfulinput or amendment."


House Prospects

In addition, House Democratic leaders "reacted coolly" to the bill, CongressDailyreports. In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) said, "Medicareand Social Security are two of the most successful safety nets in ournation, and any changes must be made on a bipartisan basis. This can bedone by the committees of jurisdiction in Congress; they have theexperience, knowledge and authority for addressing issues that arisewith entitlements."

House Budget CommitteeChair John Spratt (D-S.C.) said that the problems with the long-termfinancial stability of entitlement programs are "too important to tryto address everything en masse," adding, "I wouldn't want to condemn ityet, but I've expressed reservations" (Cohn, CongressDaily, 9/19).

House Ways and Means CommitteeChair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said, "I don't want anything to do withmembers of this administration when it comes to entitlements."

Reps.Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) next week plan to introducesimilar legislation, although the task force established by the billmight not include members from the administration (CQ Today, 9/18).

A number of budget watchdog groups, such as the Concord Coalition and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, as well as U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, support the Senate bill (CongressDaily, 9/19).

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