Ohio lawmakers outline their priorities for State of Union

By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Ohio's congressional delegation wants President Bush to offer Medicaid reforms, explain his economic stimulus proposals and make his case against Saddam Hussein when he gives his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft announced last week that skyrocketing Medicaid expenses will bankrupt the state if he does not cut funding to the program, which pays for health care services for Ohio's poorest children, senior citizens and disabled.

Cuts to the state program will fall heavily on the poor, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said on Tuesday.

"There's a great deal of concern across the nation from Democrats and Republicans alike," said Kucinich, one of about a dozen Democrats who belong to the liberal Progressive Caucus who gave what they called an alternative to the president's speech.

Kucinich said Bush has not made a case for war with Iraq and instead should focus on domestic issues that include raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits.

"The administration has not made its case," he said. "They've not shown in any way that Iraq is connected to 9-11."

Taft has proposed reducing state Medicaid spending by $468 million over the next two budget years, freezing reimbursement rates for nursing homes and hospitals and eliminating some coverage
for dental, vision and psychological services.

Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican from Madison, said he also hopes Bush talks about Medicaid, which is run by states and receives 60 percent of its funding from the federal government.

"Ohio, like many states, has been hard hit," LaTourette said. "The president could increase the federal participation. He also could allow some flexibility in Medicaid accounts."

Republican Rep. Bob Ney of St. Clairsville said he does not think the federal government will increase its share of Medicaid funding, but he would like reforms to the federal agency that administers the program.

"This singular bureaucratic institution is strangling doctors, home health agencies, nurses. It's strangling the system," Ney said. "I hope health care is addressed because we just have got to get a true health care bill."

Ney said he wants Bush to give details on his economic stimulus package, which he released earlier this month.

Bush is asking Congress to pass a $674 billion plan to speed up promised income tax cuts and send rebate checks to 34 million low- and middle-income parents.

Rep. Mike Oxley, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said he expects Bush will make a strong case for his proposal to eliminate double taxation on stock dividends, an issue under jurisdiction of his committee.

"That could improve the market by a good 10 percent. More importantly, I think it would change the business climate and eliminate some of the forces that caused some of the business scandals last year," said Oxley, of Findlay.

About 2,100 military reservists or guardsman from Ohio are on active duty or have been ordered to report, and state lawmakers expect Bush to explain why the nation should prepare for a possible war with Iraq.

"I hope the president will tell us that there will be no movement toward a war on our part until he has fully explained to the American people why it is absolutely essential and that every option has been exhausted," Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland of Lucasville said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)