ST. PAUL -- Minnesota would be far less generous in subsidizing health insurance, helping with child care or giving cash grants to welfare applicants under a budget bill the House passed early Friday.
"The results were tough but fair," said Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, chairman of the health and human services finance committee. "Members, we've done the best we could."
The $7.1 billion bill was approved 74-59 at 4 a.m.
House DFL leader Rep. Matt Entenza chastised Republican leaders for working on the 650-page bill when the public couldn't watch.
"Apparently in the middle of the night this majority wants to cut nursing homes while grandma sleeps," he said.
The bill represents the single largest vein of cuts that House leaders are mining to balance the state's $4.2 billion budget deficit. The bill includes cuts of roughly $1 billion.
To get there, $78 million would be saved by letting fewer families receive state subsidies for child care. And $200 million would be saved by making fewer people eligible for state-subsidized health insurance, 68,000 fewer by 2007.
"What we're doing is driving up everybody's medical bills just so we can keep our promise to not raise taxes," said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. "What the House majority is doing is waging war against the poor, the sick and the vulnerable."
The Senate's version of the bill, which avoids major cuts by tacking an additional $1 per pack tax on cigarettes, is expected to be considered Friday or Saturday.
Bradley emphasized that his bill includes a 9 percent increase in spending compared to the last two-year budget period, although he acknowledges costs in the programs are predicted to rise more than 20 percent.
Bradley also emphasized that, even if all the cuts were to become law, Minnesota would continue to have a more generous package of health and welfare benefits than many other states.
That was little balm to beneficiaries or advocates, who clustered outside of the House chamber to urge lawmakers to take a different path.
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