By Andrew Taylor
Joined by several moderate Republicans, Democrats controlling the Senate rejected a controversial House budget plan for turning Medicare into a voucher-like program for future beneficiaries.
Five Republicans joined every Democrat in the 57-40 vote killing the measure, which calls for transforming Medicare into a program in which future beneficiaries — people now 54 years old and younger — would be given a subsidy to purchase health insurance rather than have the government directly pay hospital and doctor bills.
Democrats said the GOP plan would “end Medicare as we know it,” and they made it the central issue in a special election Tuesday in which Democrats seized a longtime GOP district in western New York, rattling Republicans.
Among the moderate Republicans that opposed the stringent House plan were Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Tea-party favorite Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky opposed plan from the right since it doesn’t actually balance and would add trillions of dollars to the U.S. debt.
Republicans faulted Democrats, who control the Senate, for failing to offer a plan of their own.
GOP senators immediately forced a vote on President Barack Obama’s February budget proposal, which opened to chilly reviews in February for failing to aggressively tackle issues like the long-term future of benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the plan, which failed to receive a single vote.
Democrats staged the votes to put Republicans on record regarding the House-passed budget plan, authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. In addition to Medicare, the measure would sharply cut the Medicaid health care program for the poor and a host of other domestic programs.
Critics point to a nonpartisan analysis by the Congressional Budget Office predicting the House Medicare plan would pay a shrinking share of seniors’ insurance premiums over time and would lead them to either choose policies that offer less generous coverage or force them to pay thousands of dollars a year in higher premiums to maintain the coverage currently offered by Medicare.
The votes weren’t on the various budgets themselves but instead on motions to simply begin debate on them. — AP