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Dispute Over Medicare Hearing Explodes Into Shouting Match

<i> Associated Press</i>

What began as a move by Republicans to postpone a Medicare hearing ended in an angry shouting match that spilled into a hallway Wednesday, with one Democrat branding Republicans as “fascists” for refusing to allow debate.

“You’re a bunch of dictators, that’s all you are,” Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) shouted as he stormed, red-faced, from a meeting room just off the House floor. “I had to fight you guys 50 years ago,” said Gibbons, who fought the Nazis in World War II.

Outside the room, surrounded by other lawmakers, aides, nervous police and reporters, Gibbons squared off verbally with GOP Reps. Jim Nussle of Iowa and Bill Thomas of Bakersfield.

What angered Gibbons was a decision by House Republicans to postpone a hearing originally set for today on their as-yet-unveiled plan to pull $270 billion in deficit savings from Medicare over the next seven years. Democrats want several weeks of hearings, but Republicans have scheduled only one, noting that they held numerous sessions earlier in the year.

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Gibbons refused to agree to the postponement without having the committee meet. And when the panel convened, Republicans refused to allow any debate on their decision to put off the hearing.

“They wouldn’t let me speak. That’s a bunch of fascists in there,” Gibbons told reporters.

He soon found himself in a knot of lawmakers, arguing loudly.

“Where’s your plan, Mr. Gibbons?” Nussle demanded, adding that Gibbons was having a “tantrum.”

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Democrats have yet to produce a proposal for Medicare, which Republicans say needs to be overhauled to remain solvent.

Gibbons said Democrats had recommended changes last year, but Republicans had voted them down.

“Socialized medicine,” said Rep. Jon Christensen (R-Neb.), who wasn’t in Congress last year when lawmakers rejected President Clinton’s plan for overhauling the nation’s health care system.


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