40 GOP senators back plan to transform Medicare

Republican Congressional leaders return to Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 13, 2011, after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in advance of his speech on the deficit and his plan for future spending. From left are: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Updated 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time

Forty Republican senators voted for a controversial House budget proposal that transforms Medicare into a voucher-like system late Wednesday afternoon in a vote orchestrated by Democrats to put members of the GOP on the record as either supporting or opposing the plan.

As expected, the House Republican budget plan failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate by a vote of 40-57. It won no Democratic or independent votes.

Moderate Republican senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts voted against the bill. So did Tea Party-linked Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who said it did not go far enough to balance the budget.

(Three senators - Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York - declined to vote.)

The $3.5 trillion budget plan, from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, passed the House in April with the support of all but four Republicans. It mandates Americans currently under 55-years-old would get a Medicare subsidy to purchase health insurance when they turn 65 instead of the government directly paying their health care costs.

Democrats have assailed the plan as an attempt to destroy Medicare, and it appears they've found traction on the issue: Medicare appears to have been a major issue for voters in a conservative New York district in which the Democratic candidate won an upset special election victory Tuesday.

"Democrats in Congress and even some candid Republicans know the plan to kill Medicare is irresponsible and indefensible. Last night voters showed the country and the Congress that they know it too," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said before the vote Wednesday.

Sen. Patty Murray, Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Wednesday's vote "a defining moment for the next election."

"The Republican budget is a toxic political liability for the GOP and Democrats will continue to drive the debate and play offense this cycle," she said.

The Senate vote was designed to force Republican senators to either sign onto the plan - thus making them more vulnerable to Medicare-based attacks - or oppose it, which could prompt questions among Tea Party supporters over whether the senator is serious about addressing the deficit and debt.

Republicans, meanwhile, forced a vote Wednesday afternoon on President Obama's February budget proposal, which Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana have said did not go far enough to reduce the budget deficit. It failed 0-97. Democrats said before the vote they would oppose the Obama budget because it had been supplanted by his April deficit reduction plan.

Votes were also planned on bills from fiscally conservative Republicans that cut more from the budget than the Ryan plan. They were also expected to fail.

In fitting with the convoluted nature of the Senate, the votes were not on the bills directly but on motions to begin debating them. In addition, the budget bill itself is not actual legislation but rather a blueprint for future bills.

Senate Democrats have effectively halted negotiations on passing a budget pending negotiations involving Vice President Biden and senior congressional lawmakers on a bill to cut spending, a move that has prompted criticism from Republicans. The spending cut compromise is meant to be passed in conjunction with a vote to raise the debt limit, which many Republicans are refusing to do without major spending cuts. The government has said the debt limit will be crossed on Aug. 2nd, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the U.S. economy.