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Clinton Backs Medicare Plan

President Clinton talked tough Tuesday, scorning the Republican plan to cut taxes with the current budget surplus, saying, "We must ask ourselves what we need to do before we ask ourselves what we would like to do."

Women stand to lose more than men if government surpluses aren't used to bolster Medicare, the Clinton administration is contending in an attempt to stir up opposition to the big tax cut Republicans want, CBS White House Correspondent Bill Plante reports.

In advance of a White House event Tuesday, the White House framed the alternatives this way: "Invest in a stronger Medicare program for our mothers and grandmothers, or give away the entire surplus on a risky and irresponsible tax scheme."

"This country may never have an opportunity like this again," he said.

Mrs. Clinton underscored battle to save Medicare by saying it is one of "the most important challenges today."

Mr. Clinton said that the problems with Medicare and Social Security can't be fixed by what he calls the Republican's large and irresponsible tax cut. And he threatened again to veto that tax cut.

The Clintons' plan, highlighting a study by a women's advocacy group showing that women rely more than men do on Medicare - the nation's health insurance program for the elderly and disabled - mainly because the average woman lives longer and has a lower income.

The White House highlighted a report by the Older Women's League which found:

  • Three out of 5 elderly Americans are female, and the longer they live, the higher that proportion becomes.
  • Older women have more chronic illnesses than men.
  • They pay a higher percentage of their incomes on health care.
  • They have lower incomes to stretch over longer lives than men.
Emphasizing that 20 million of the 34 million Americans on Medicare are women, OWL's executive director, Deborah Briceland-Betts, said, "Medicare is a women's health plan."

Vice President Al Gore, a contender for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, is expected to tout the statistics about women and Medicare Tuesday at a separate rally against GOP tax cuts with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

The Democrats are also expected to single out Americans living in rural areas in their pitch. Gore plans to take along administration figures showing that nearly half the older Americans in rural areas lack health insurance covering prescription drugs, compared to about a third of all retirees nationally.

The administration has proposed, and congressional Democrats are backing, new universal Medicare coverage for prescription drugs - at a 10-year cost to the Treasury of $118 billion.

To pay for the new benefit and buttress Medicare against the coming wave of baby boom retirements, Mr. Clinton wants to use $794 billion of the federal budget surplses projected over the next 15 years.

Republican leaders also have endorsed the idea of a Medicare overhaul and new drug benefits. But they are trying to earmark much of the future surplus for a tax cut costing $792 billion over 10 years, saying plenty would be left for other priorities.