Washington (CNSNews.com) - Immediately after President Clinton's State of the Union address on Thursday night, Congressional Republicans responded by asking the president to join them in passing legislation to cut taxes, preserve Social Security, increase federal educational funding, and make healthcare insurance more affordable for low and middle-income workers.
Saying that education reform "is at the top of the Republican agenda," Senator Susan Collins of Maine was joined by her GOP colleague, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, in outlining the majority party's priorities for the second session of the 106th Congress.
After briefly touching on cutting taxes, saving Social Security, eliminating the national debt and building a missile defense system, Collins dedicated the majority of her half of the GOP response to education reform. Frist dedicated his portion of the GOP response solely to criticizing the president's healthcare proposals and outlining the Republican health plans.
Collins unveiled the Republicans' "Four Point Plan for Educational Excellence," that she said would provide more federal money for elementary and secondary education while giving more autonomy to local school boards on how to spend it. In return, schools would be asked to improve "student achievement," said Collins.
The plan also increases federal grants to states and localities to be used for teacher recruitment, training and salaries, said Collins, adding that her younger brother serves on the school board in their hometown of Caribou, Maine.
Additionally, the Republican leadership will propose legislation to increase the amount that can be contributed to education savings accounts to be used for college tuition, said Collins.
Frist, a transplant surgeon and the only physician in the Senate, began his presentation of his party's plan to reform Medicare by warning of the inefficiencies of "socialized medicine."
"During my surgical fellowship, I worked in England for the British National Health Service, and I saw first-hand the rationing, lack of choice, the long waits, and the denial of care for seniors," said Frist.
"I learned that socialized medicine - whether in England or in Canada - where patients are fleeing to the US for treatment - just does not work," Frist stated.
Before he delivered his speech, Frist told CNSNews.com that, although the United States is a long way from a socialized medical system, he sees many of the president's current and past healthcare proposals as a "step in that direction."
Describing Medicare as a "35-year-old program with 130,000 pages of regulations" that are wasteful, confusing and also saddle seniors with "red tape and heartache," Frist said that within two weeks Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will introduce bipartisan legislation to "save Medicare" and provide seniors with more choice and security in picking health plans.
To guarantee that Medicare will remain solvent for future generations, Frist said Republicans will propose adding it to the so-called Social Security lockbox in order to keep both programs from being used to finance the federal budget.
"We will not let anyone spend your Medicare money," Frist told the nation.
He also said that Congress will send to the president "a real 'Patients' Bill of Rights,' with strong patient protections," giving people the right to have an independent doctor hear their disputes with HMOs. Litigation should be a "last resort," Frist said, "because as every American knows, your sick child needs to see a doctor, not a lawyer."