The two measures, which still require approval by the full House and Senate, are the major pieces of legislation standing between Congress and its expected adjournment tomorrow or Tuesday.
Legislators have decided to put off a number of major items, including a rewrite of the Clean Air Act, new child-care legislation and a civil rights bill for the physically and mentally disabled, until next year.
But before recessing early yesterday morning, they agreed on a pay increase for themselves. Under a bill sent to President Bush for his expected signature, House members - as well as federal judges and senior executive branch officials - will get a raise of at least 35 percent over two years.
Senators, fearing a voter backlash, elected to take only a 9.9 percent increase, which would raise their pay to $98,400 next year from the current $89,500. House members' salaries would rise to $98,400, then jump to between $120,800 and $125,000, depending on cost-of-living adjustments, in 1991. In return, the House agreed to give up speaking fees from special interests, while the Senate agreed on a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount of such fees senators can keep.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a leading proponent of preserving a scaled- down version of the catastrophic coverage act, told his colleagues early yesterday morning that the rush to adjournment would not deter him from fighting the repeal of the 1988 Medicare law.
"We can't do this to seniors in America," said McCain, who hinted that he might try to delay adjournment by launching a filibuster against repeal.
Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas said he would join McCain in trying to block the repeal. "We shouldn't give into the House. That's all they've been talking about - repeal, repeal," said Dole.
The agreement worked out between House and Senate negotiators would repeal the 1988 law in its entirety - both its financing mechanism and its benefits.
Hospital and doctor bills incurred during the later stages of prolonged, acute illnesses would no longer be fully covered by Medicare. Also scrapped would be the controversial method of financing most of the health insurance, a tax on middle- and upper-income beneficiaries that would run as high as $800 per person this year, barring repeal.
The rationale of the law was that the federal government should protect senior citizens from bankruptcy in cases of chronic illness, but that the senior citizens should pay the cost of the program.
Opponents argued that the cost of the program should be assumed by all taxpayers and said that much of the expanded Medicare coverage provided by the law duplicated private insurance policies held by many of the 32 million Medicare beneficiaries.
McCain last month won Senate approval of a bill repealing the surtax and several benefits, including coverage of prescription drug costs and full payment of doctor bills after $1,370 in out-of-pocket expenditures. But his measure retained unlimited coverage of hospital bills, paying for them by keeping in place higher monthly Medicare premiums instituted by the 1988 law.
House negotiators, however, pressed for a total repeal of the 1988 act, saying it would be difficult to convince senior citizens that the retained benefits would be worth the $7.40 in additional monthly premium costs that would be imposed next year.
"There was a growing amount of concern that if we were going to raise premiums, we better have an airtight case that the benefits would be worth it," said Rep. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), a House negotiator, noting the outcry
from seniors' groups against the 1988 law.
Senate negotiators, led by Texas Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, reluctantly agreed to the House position during a meeting that began late Friday night and concluded after midnight.
McCain's opposition, however, could jeopardize the agreement. One House negotiator noted that McCain withstood beatings and torture as a prisoner-of- war in North Vietnam and said he was showing similar tenacity now. "It's interesting to negotiate with him," said Rep. Edward R. Madigan (R., Ill.).
The other major bill awaiting action - a measure to cut the federal budget deficit - also could face roadblocks.
Sen. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.) said the plan may fall short of the Bush administration's standard of a bill that cuts the budget deficit by at least $14 billion so that the deficit will be lower than the $110 billion target for 1990 set by the Gramm-Rudman budget law.
If the measure is vetoed, $16.1 billion in automatic spending cuts imposed Oct. 16 on scores of defense and domestic programs would remain in effect. Kept in force long enough, the cuts could require reductions in military personnel, student aid, farm price supports and other popular spending programs.