This was a procedural vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to the budget resolution for fiscal year 2012. If passed, this particular procedural motion--known as the “previous question"--effectively ends debate and brings the pending legislation to an immediate vote.
The annual budget resolution is essentially a blueprint for all federal government spending. Budget resolutions do not have the force of law, but rather set the parameters for all future congressional actions relating to the federal budget. For example, all government spending bills must abide by the funding limits established by the budget resolution in order to comply with House and Senate rules. (“Emergency spending,” such as disaster relief or war funding, is exempted from this requirement.)
While the budget resolution pertains to one specific fiscal year (in this, case 2012), they encompass a five or ten year window. In other words, they make assumptions about the effects of budgetary policies during the five or ten year period following a budget resolution’s enactment. This underlying 2012 budget resolution was a 10-year budget plan. Specifically, it cut $5.8 trillion from federal programs over 10 years, and converted the Medicare program for the elderly into a private health insurance voucher system for those who were currently 55 or younger. Instead of receiving health care through traditional Medicare, which is essentially a single payer health insurance program for the elderly, seniors would receive a subsidy from the federal government to purchase health insurance in the private market.
In addition, the 2012 budget resolution cut $770 billion from Medicaid—the health insurance program funded jointly by the federal government and states. In order to generate $770 billion in savings, the budget resolution converted Medicaid into a “block grant,” in which states would simply receive a lump sum of money from the federal government to do as they see fit. If Medicaid were converted into a block grant, states would have far more flexibility in setting eligibility requirements for the program. For example, the federal government guaranteed Medicaid coverage to children, pregnant women, and parents with dependent children who met certain income requirements. Under a block grant system, states could elect not to insure those populations, or set the threshold for eligibility much higher. Thus, if Medicaid became a block grant, many Americans could lose their Medicaid coverage.
Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) urged support for the resolution and the underlying budget measure: “Each of us is here today because those who came before us made amazing sacrifices for the next generation--us--keeping alive the American Dream. In the last century alone, our parents and grandparents have won two world wars, overcome the Great Depression, defeated communism, and created the most prosperous and vibrant society in the history of mankind. Today it is our turn. It is our turn to take a bold and necessary step to ensure that we pass on to our children this great blessing called America, and even a stronger America than the one we received from our parents….Our plan creates jobs, real jobs, 1 million new jobs in America in the first year alone. It stimulates our economy, increasing our GDP [gross domestic product] by $1.5 trillion in the next 10 years. It protects and strengthens Social Security and Medicare.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) opposed the resolution and the underlying budget plan: “It would eliminate Medicare as we know it, forcing seniors to pay thousands of dollars more every year for their health care. It would bring back the doughnut hole, allow insurance companies to once again discriminate based upon preexisting conditions, and kick young people off their parents' insurance plans. It would slash needed investments in education, infrastructure, medical research, environmental protection, and hunger programs. And it would still result in deficits as far as the eye can see….In short, I believe this budget would represent the largest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the wealthy in American history….Over the last several years, working families have been struggling, struggling to find a job, struggling to pay their mortgages, to pay the utility bills and their health care bills, struggling to put food on the table and put their kids through college. To them, the Republicans would say, `Tough luck.'”
The House agreed to the previous question motion by a vote of 238-183. All 236 Republicans present and 2 Democrats voted “yea.” 183 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House proceeded to a final vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to the budget resolution for fiscal year 2012.