Before they consider President Clinton's nominee to run the Medicare program, Senate Republicans want some answers from her _ and a White House promise to let doctors bypass Medicare billing restrictions and contract privately with senior citizens.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona placed a hold on the nomination of Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, acting director of the Medicare program, demanding that she announce whether she would support changing Medicare rules for Arizona and specialists there.
Kyl said Tuesday he would send her a letter outlining his questions.
Even if she answers to his satisfaction, Kyl indicated he will not allow DeParle's nomination to move until the White House agrees to accept legislation that would allow doctors to bypass Medicare price restrictions and bill senior citizens privately for their services.
The balanced budget law that President Clinton signed in August includes a provision that allows doctors to enter private contracts with Medicare patients, but bars such physicians from submitting any bills to Medicare for two years. Kyl wants that restriction repealed.
"Holding up the confirmation of a strongly qualified person to head this agency only brings harm to Medicare and Medicaid and the people they serve," said White House spokesman Barry Toiv.
But Kyl said "the hold is on for as long as it takes."
His action adds to the list of stalled nominations waiting for Senate consideration.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said Tuesday that 44 of the president's nominations are backed up.
A member of his own party, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, is stalling action on two nominations for the Federal Reserve Board.
Kyl and other Republicans say Democrats take political hostages all the time, most notably this year on a slate of proposals "far more important" than a nomination. Daschle, for example, on Tuesday reaffirmed his intent to hold up spending, "fast-track" trade and other bills until GOP leaders bring campaign finance reform to the floor.
"In order of magnitude, her nomination is a totally different level of significance to the country than fast-track authority, not to mention all the appropriations bills that fund the government," Kyl said.
Daschle has said the Democrats would not use stalling tactics against the appropriations bills.
DeParle would succeed Bruce Vladeck as administrator of the Federal Health Care Financing Administration, which spends more than $300-billion a year on Medicare and Medicaid.