WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. House of Representatives Ways and
Means Committee struck a major blow for President Clinton's
health reforms Thursday, approving a sweeping plan to insure
every American by 1998 and requiring employers to foot most of
Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, D-Fla., the panel's acting chairman,
boasted it "will guarantee from birth to death. . .that all
Americans will never lose their health care."
But barely an hour before the Democrats' narrow victory in
Ways and Means, the Senate Finance Committee turned its back on
compulsory health insurance. It unceremoniously dumped from
Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan's bill a requirement that
employers kick in for health insurance if other measures fail.
The senators then voted to tax the richest health benefit
plans and set a goal of getting at least 95 percent of Americans
covered by 2002.
The 20-18 vote made Ways and Means the third congressional
committee to approve legislation overhauling the country's health
system and insurance laws. It guarantees a vote by the House
later this summer.
The president, watching on television, called to congratulate
Gibbons moments after the new chairman had pushed the landmark
bill through Ways and Means. Clinton called the panel's action "a
giant stride forward" and added: "While the special interests
will continue to try and stand in the way of history, they will
And a case of Schlitz beer was delivered to Gibbons at the
podium in the cavernous committee room. The gift from Hillary
Rodham Clinton was a reminder of the two cans of Schlitz that
Gibbons carried in his pack when he parachuted into France on
D-Day 50 years ago.
Earlier, the president attacked Sen. Bob Dole's substitute
proposal, supported by 39 of the 44 Senate Republicans. "It is
politics as usual," said Clinton.
"It does a little bit for the poor, it leaves all the powerful
vested interest groups with everything they've got, and it walks
away from the middle class and small business," Clinton said.
Ways and Means rejected on a party-line 24-14 vote a
Republican alternative to help the uninsured with insurance
reforms and subsidies, but not require anybody to buy insurance.
"We have the answers but you have the votes," said Rep. Bill
The Ways and Means bill would require employers to pick up 80
percent of premiums and make employees pay the other 20 percent.
Some 60 million Americans _ the poor now on Medicaid, the jobless
uninsured and low-wage workers in firms with fewer than 100
employees _ would get government health insurance through an
expanded Medicare program.
In Finance, all nine Republicans and five Democrats joined in
the 14-6 vote against a Moynihan provision forcing employers to
cover workers in three to five years if voluntary measures fell