Panel seeks ‘reality check’ on health financing



WASHINGTON (AP)—A key Senate Democrat grumbled anew about White House cost estimates on health care savings Thursday, asking Hillary Rodham Clinton if they could pass a ‘‘reality check.’‘

Daniel P. Moynihan wasn’t the only senator expressing misgivings about the plan’s financing as the first lady wrapped up a three-day marathon of hearings before Congress.

‘‘No rosy scenarios, no smoke and mirrors, no juggling the books,’‘ said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., saying he meant for Republicans to follow that edict, too.

As in her previous appearances this week on Capitol Hill, whatever lawmakers’ reservations about President Clinton’s plan, Mrs. Clinton seemed to impress them with her straightforward style and command of detail.

Moynihan, a New York Democrat, stood and led the room in applause after her final three-hour session—a rare salute from a congressional panel but the second for Mrs. Clinton this week.

The Clinton plan’s cost estimates have brought scoffs from some Democrats as well as Republicans. Many lawmakers doubt that Clinton can really look to cuts in waste and restraints in Medicare and Medicaid to get the $350 billion in new federal funds the plan will cost over five years.

Moynihan called it ‘‘fantasy’‘ last week. On Thursday, he noted that the Clinton plan projects that medical costs won’t go up much more than inflation in general. How could that be, he asked, when medical prices have grown 875 percent since 1960 while consumer prices rose 375 percent?

‘‘How would that survive the reality check?’‘ Moynihan asked Mrs. Clinton, noting that Clinton had pledged to build ‘‘a continuing reality check’‘ into his health overhaul.

The first lady said the administration was setting ‘‘zero growth as a budget target this country should be moving toward.’‘ She also contended there is as much as $200 billion in waste in the current $1 trillion system.

Later, Moynihan said Mrs. Clinton ‘‘was straight with us on everything. … She didn’t in any way say ‘mumble, mumble.’ She said, ‘yep, that’s our proposition.’‘’

Yet he didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement for the administration’s numbers. Asked if he thought their estimates on zero growth were fantasy, Moynihan put up his hands.

‘‘End interview,’‘ he said. Asked if he now felt more confident about the numbers, he said: ‘‘I feel very confident about what the administration’s position is.’‘

He noted lawmakers are still awaiting a bill that will include all the figures.

On other topics, Mrs. Clinton gave her endorsement to a call by Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., for a 25 percent sales tax on handguns and a $2,500 license fees for gun dealers. ‘‘Speaking personally, I’m all for that,’‘ she said.

Bradley press secretary Eric Hauser said the senator has argued ‘‘it’s a good idea to pay for health care with the things that are unhealthy.’‘

Dole, meanwhile, reiterated his statement that Republicans stand ready to work with the White House.

‘‘Our intention is to be very positive. … We’re going to start down the road together,’‘ he said.

Dole said Clinton’s mandate on employers to pay most of their workers’ health costs ‘‘bothers us,’‘ and he cautioned, ‘‘We don’t want to bury the American people under an avalanche of bureaucracy.’‘

Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., a moderate the White House hopes to win over on the health care plan, urged Mrs. Clinton to have the president fight to keep abortion coverage in the plan.

Packwood noted that abortion rights lawmakers lost a battle this week when the Senate voted 59-40 to retain the ban on federal funds going for Medicaid abortions.

Given that vote, Clinton will have to fight for abortion coverage, Packwood said, or Congress is likely to delete it.

In her week’s work before Congress, Mrs. Clinton put in nearly 12 hours of testimony over three days before five major committees. She fielded questions from more than 100 members of the House and nearly a third of the Senate.