A Republican budget plan calling for radical changes to Medicare took a drubbing in the US Senate on Wednesday, a day after voters in upstate New York expressed their disapproval by electing a Democrat.
On Wednesday the Democratic-controlled US Senate voted 57 to 40 against the budget proposal, which just last month passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives by a wide margin. Although the outcome of Wednesday’s vote was pre-ordained, five Republican Senators joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against the plan, which would radically alter Medicare, the popular government-sponsored healthcare program for the elderly.
The vote followed an upset victory on Tuesday for Democrat Kathy Hochul in a special election in New York’s 26th congressional district.
The election was called to fill the usually safe Republican seat vacated by Chris Lee, who resigned after a gossip Web site published a shirtless photo of the married Congressman responding to a personal ad. The election’s real drama, however, was seeing how voters would react to the controversial Republican proposals to help trim the burgeoning budget deficit by turning Medicare into a voucher program.
Like the rest of her party, Republican Jane Corwin campaigned in the largely rural, western New York state district in support of the Medicare reforms. Hochul campaigned against them — and won.
The election’s most immediate reverberations were felt in Washington, where Democrats now see Republicans as deeply vulnerable on Medicare in next year’s -congressional and presidential elections.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called Wednesday’s vote in order to force Republicans to go on record for or against the Medicare budget plan.
Four Republican centrists — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts — voted with the Democrats against the Republican plan.
Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ultraconservative ‘tea party’ member, also voted with the Democrats because he said the budget cutting did not go far enough.
The budget blueprint calls for tax cuts for the richest Americans and most importantly, a reduction in the cost of both Medicare and Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the country’s poorest citizens.
Public opinion polls show both programs are extremely popular with voters. Republicans were quick to respond to the vote, castigating Democrats for ignoring the long-term impact of the country’s growing debt.
“The president identified the problem more than a year ago when he said that ‘almost all of the long-term deficit and debt we face relates to the costs of Medicare and Medicaid,’” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
“But Democrats in the Senate showed today that don’t even want to talk about it. They rejected every single proposal to deal with it,” McConnell said.
“They’re so focused on an election that’s nearly two years away that they can’t see the crisis in front of us,” he added.
Democrats, on the other hand, congratulated themselves on protecting Medicare.
“The promise of Medicare is this: if you work hard and contribute, America will make sure you are protected in retirement from the hardships of affording health care,” Reid said.
“The Republican budget would break this promise,” he added. “It would make life significantly more difficult and painful for America’s seniors. It’s as simple and as serious as that.”