President Bush warned Congress not to reopen the Medicare legislation he pushed through in 2003, threatening to veto any measure to scale back its benefits.
"I signed Medicare reform proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors and to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto," Bush said.
He made the remarks at a ceremony yesterday marking the installation of Michael Leavitt as the new secretary of health and human services.
The statement was a rare invocation of the presidential veto as a weapon against a Republican Congress. Bush has not vetoed any bill in his over four years in office.
The Medicare legislation debate reemerged in Washington last week when new projections indicated a far bigger price tag for the prescription drug benefit than the $400 billion originally forecasted by supporters during the 2003 enactment of the bill or the $534 billion later estimated by the government.
The new estimates from Bush's budget showed the Medicare drug benefit will cost over $720 billion in its first 10 years.
Many Congressional Democrats argued the White House kept its original estimates low in 2003 in order for the plan to win Congress' approval and have called for an inquiry into the latest projections.
Although Bush did not directly address the renewal of the cost controversy, he did acknowledge that, "Putting these reforms in action will be challenging."
"We all know the alternative to reform -- a Medicare system that offers outdated benefits and imposes needless costs," Bush said. "For decades we promised America's seniors that we can do better and we finally did. Now we must keep our word."