Democrats have failed to persuade their Republican colleagues to authorize all drilling reservists and members of the National Guard to take part in the TriCare military health care system.[@@]

Partisan wrangling and back-and-forth votes on the matter took place shortly before Memorial Day when stories of combat in Iraq dominated the news.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., spearheaded the Democratic effort to put a TriCare expansion measure back into a $442 billion defense authorization after House Armed Services Committee Chair Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., pulled it before Wednesday’s vote. Previously, Taylor had won a 32-30 bipartisan vote to include the health care expansion in the bill. But he failed in efforts to put the measure back.

“Somewhere between the committee and the Rules Committee, someone decided that there was mandatory spending involved,” Taylor said on the House floor last week, according to a written version of his remark printed in the Congressional Record. “So the same Congress that has brought 21 bills to the floor that waived all budgetary rules, no matter how much it ran up the deficit, the same Congress that has added $2.2 trillion to the national debt in just four years, that decided Paris Hilton can inherit hundreds of millions of dollars without paying a penny in taxes, decided because there was $5 million mandatory spending, these National Guardsmen could no longer buy into that policy.”

The provision Hunter discarded would have allowed any drilling Reserve or Guard member to pay monthly premiums of $75 for individual coverage and $233 for family coverage.

Hunter justified his actions Friday by noting that employers of reservists and Guard members might be tempted to cut off health benefits for affected employees, knowing the military would pick up the slack.

In addition, the chairman said mobilized reservists and Guard members had TriCare coverage from 90 days before mobilization until at least 120 days after they returned.

The $5.8 billion that Taylor’s provision would have cost over 5 years would be better spent on modernizing equipment for those members when they are deployed into combat, Hunter said.