A House tax panel voted not to repeal the 1988 catastrophic illness insurance program that has brought protests from senior citizens groups over its income-based surtax to pay for increased benefits. The House Ways and Means Committee, meeting behind closed doors, also took no action on a proposal to slash, from 28% to 15%, the capital gains tax on the sale of assets, as President Bush has requested. Democratic leaders oppose the capital gains tax cut and have urged Democrats on the tax-writing panel to keep the tax at its current level. The panel defeated an amendment by Rep. Brian Donnelly (D-Mass.) and others to repeal the catastrophic illness insurance program passed last year. The law requires that senior citizens foot the bill for greatly expanded Medicare benefits.