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CLINTON SUCCEEDED WITH MEDICAID WHERE MOYNIHAN FAILED

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped achieve a major feat that eluded her predecessor, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, for 24 years: getting Senate passage of a bill that increases the federal share in the state's Medicaid program.

Her bill, if it had also passed the Republican-controlled House, would have saved Erie County taxpayers $4.4 million and Niagara County about $800,000 next year. Chautauqua County would have received about $550,000 more.

Clinton, D-N.Y., estimated Friday that New York State would have received an added $550 million -- of which $145 million would have gone to cash-strapped counties.

But despite Gov. George E. Pataki's backing, the House GOP leadership sidetracked a companion measure sponsored by Rep. Peter King, R-L.I., and the legislation is dead for the rest of the year.

If the House returns before New Year's Day, it will be to deal only with emergency appropriations.

Clinton's campaign to increase federal Medicaid spending in New York is in stark contrast to the position the White House took during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton, from 1993 through 2000.

In 1994, Moynihan, then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to persuade President Clinton to increase the federal share of Medicaid paid to New York into the administration's universal health care bill. Their failure to get Clinton administration support for increasing the formula beyond 50 percent soured them on the White House health care program and contributed to the death of the idea.

Counties in New York pay half the nonfederal share of the cost.

President Clinton not only blocked changes in the formula but used his only line-item veto to purge a backdoor program Cuomo used to get an estimated $5.8 billion in added federal Medicaid funding for the state over nearly a decade. The line-item veto was later declared unconstitutional.

Currently, the federal government pays 50.8 percent of the Medicaid bill in New York.

Clinton's Senate-passed bill, which she co-sponsored with Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, would have increased that figure by 1.35 percent for the last half of the federal fiscal year 2002 and all of fiscal 2003. It passed in midsummer. Clinton said the bill will be reintroduced in the new 108th Congress next year. This could put pressure on upstate Republican House members, including Reps. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence and Jack Quinn of Hamburg. Their leader, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, opposes increasing any Medicaid funds for New York.

A study released by Clinton on Friday shows that nearly 60 percent of Erie County's property taxes went to pay the county's share of Medicaid in 2000, which was well before the current economic downturn.

More than 40 percent of Chautauqua County's property taxes and 37 percent of Niagara County's went to Medicaid.

Quinn, who has more than two-thirds of Erie County, added Chautauqua County to his congressional district in the recent redistricting. Reynolds picked up added terrority in Erie County and Niagara County.

Clinton said property owners are facing a steep increase in their taxes to meet these and other costs. In Chautauqua County, she said, the increase will be 31 percent, and in Niagara County 15.3 percent. Her data did not refer to Erie County's tax rates.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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