MANCHESTER, N.H. – A clerk's mistake could mean a budget bill President Bush signed isn't technically law, but congressional Republicans said again Wednesday they have no plans to try to fix the problem.
Even though Alabama attorney Jim Zeigler has filed a lawsuit charging the $39 billion deficit-cutting legislation Bush signed is unconstitutional because the House and Senate failed to pass identical versions, House GOP leaders insist there's no problem.
"I believe that it's law," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Not so, says Zeigler, a Republican activist.
"An eighth-grader in civics class knows that a bill cannot become law unless the identical bill passes the House and Senate and is signed by the president," Zeigler said.
The bill, which Bush signed Feb. 8, tightens rules for Medicaid nursing home eligibility to make it more difficult for those who have transferred their assets to their families or to charities to qualify for Medicaid.
Zeigler, who advises the elderly on eligibility for nursing home care under the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, filed suit Monday in federal court in Mobile, Ala., naming Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a defendant. Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined comment on the case.
House Democrats, accusing GOP leaders of abusing the legislative process, have asked for another vote. On the last vote Feb. 1, the bill passed by the narrowest of margins, 216-214.
At issue is a provision involving the period of time the government pays to rent some types of durable medical equipment before medical suppliers transfer it to Medicare patients.
The Senate voted for 13 months, as intended by Senate and House negotiators, but a Senate clerk erroneously put down 36 months in sending the bill back to the House for a final vote, and that's what the House approved Feb. 1.
By the time the bill was shipped to Bush, the number was back to 13 months as passed by the Senate but not the House.
The White House and House and Senate GOP leaders say the matter is settled because the mistake was technical and that top House and Senate leaders certified the bill before transmitting it to the White House.