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Medicare anger boils over in verbal brawl

September 20, 1995
Web Posted at: 11:36 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Bob Franken

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Anyone who though the fight between Republicans and Democrats over Medicare couldn't get any more intense should have been on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

[gibbons preview] It started with the throwing of a paper wad and the calling of a name, and ended up as a near brawl in the hallway. When Republicans sought to postpone a hearing on reform legislation, a feisty Sam Gibbons, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, jumped up from the bargaining table. He hurled a wadded-up document onto the table, called the Republicans "a bunch of dictators," and stomped out of the room. (2.0M QuickTime movie)

Later, in the hallway, Gibbons said the Republicans were cutting him off and wouldn't let him talk or discuss the idea of having more hearings. "The silence of the Republican side is typical of the silence they've had all along on this Medicare proposal," said Gibbons, D-Florida. "They're going to take $270 billion out of the pockets of Medicare people and put it in the hands of very rich constituents. You know that's what you're doing. And you won't give us any hearings. One day, and we don't even have a bill to have hearings on. What a joke."

[brawl preview] The dispute heated up in the hallway when a question-and-answer session with the press almost turned into a brawl. There was shouting, finger-pointing, and, at times, lapel-poking. (2.3M QuickTime movie)

As Gibbons was speaking with the press, Rep. Bill Thomas, R- California, and Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, argued with Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan.

"Its difficult to be the minority, I understand that," Thomas said.

"It's difficult for the majority -- learning to have hearings," Levin shot back.

"We understand the rules. We're using them and following just like you did," Thomas said.

"You're using them to cut off debate."

Then, all the Republicans asked Levin at once: "Where's your plan ... you got a plan?"

"We're really excited to see your plan, Sandy. Where is it?" Nussle asked.

"The question is, where are the hearings?" Levin replied.

Then Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, and Nussle butted heads. Nussle hit Rangel with the same query: "Where's your plan?"

"Our plan is to make sure that the rich don't get $240 billion dollars of tax cut," Rangel said.

"I'm tired of you telling them they're rich. I'm tired of that. My two grandmothers aren't rich and I'm tired of you telling them that they're rich," Nussle said.

"You should be ashamed of what you're doing to your grandmother, this is the third time you're bringing up your grandmothers. You must be pretty weak to bring up your grandmothers.

The confrontations erupted just hours before Republicans were scheduled to unveil the long-awaited details of their Medicare plan. Democrats had demanded at least four weeks of hearings, but were brushed off.

The fracas ended only when members had to rush back to the House chamber for a vote.



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