Senators Forced to Go on the Record on Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan

BY Quinn Bowman  May 25, 2011 at 7:25 PM EDT

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Majority Leader Harry Reid forced his Senate colleagues Wednesday to show where they stand on the House Republican budget blueprint that would end Medicare as a single-payer health insurance guarantee, creating a possible political liability.

The resolution failed to get the 51 votes needed to proceed, but the vote served as a marker before the 2012 elections: as the Congress and White House debate spending, where do vulnerable senators stand on keeping Medicare essentially the way it is, or turning it into a voucher system that gives seniors a check to buy private health insurance plans? The Medicare changes are part of a larger budget blueprint called the Path to Prosperity that was spearheaded by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Just five Republicans voted with Democrats against the budget: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The vote failed 40-57.

The controversial Medicare vote was a subject of intense focus on Capitol Hill Wednesday after Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election for the House in New York’s 26th District, which has been in Republican control for decades. The Ryan budget plan, supported by Republican candidate Jane Corwin, became a focal point for the race.

Immediately after the vote Reid asserted that his Republican colleagues had not read the message sent by voters in New York’s special election, previewing what is likely to be part of the Democrats’ message in 2012, when control of the Senate will be at stake again.

“The message the American people sent yesterday was loud and clear: they said no to the the Republicans’ plan to end Medicare. The message my Republican colleagues sent a moment ago was equally clear: ‘We don’t care,’” Reid said.

Several Republicans supported the Ryan plan on the Senate floor Wednesday. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Senate Democrats for not offering their own budget proposal while forcing a vote on the Ryan plan.

“Members of the president’s own Cabinet admitted last week that Medicare is in need of urgent reform if we want to preserve it for future generations. Congressman Ryan has shown courage by proposing a budget that would tackle these problems. Democrats are showing none by ignoring our problems altogether,” McConnell said.

President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, which he offered earlier this year, was also put up for a vote Wednesday evening. It failed to get a single vote in the Senate. While many Senate Democrats praised President Obama’s budget when it was released in February, none supported it Wednesday. President Obama, after Rep. Ryan introduced his plan, made a speech revising his priorities and addressing entitlement reform, a critical budget area which went largely untouched in his February blueprint.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who chairs the Budget Committee, said his committee is waiting for deficit-reduction talks led by Vice President Joe Biden to produce a viable bipartisan solution before offering a budget in the Senate.