What: All Issues : Health Care : S Con Res 21. (Fiscal 2008 budget resolution), Ensign of Nevada amendment on expanding premiums for the wealthy for Medicare's prescription drug benefit/On agreeing to the amendment (2007 senate Roll Call 93)
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S Con Res 21. (Fiscal 2008 budget resolution), Ensign of Nevada amendment on expanding premiums for the wealthy for Medicare's prescription drug benefit/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 93     Mar 22, 2007
Progressive Position:
Nay
Progressive Result:
Win
Qualifies as polarizing?
Yes
Is this vote crucial?
No

This vote was on an amendment by John Ensign, R-Nev., related to Medicare's prescription drug benefit. The amendment would have required those who are earning an annual income of more than $80,000 individually, or $160,000 as a couple, to pay a larger share of their Medicare drug benefit premium.

The amendment was offered to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress' budget priorities in fiscal 2008. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.

Judd Gregg, R-N.H., speaking on behalf of Ensign, who was absent, said the amendment is necessary to establish a high-end means test for receiving the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He argued that other classes of Medicare benefits are curtailed for high-income Americans, and that the drug benefit should be no exception. He said the change would affect around 5 percent of seniors.

"Those people are being subsidized by working Americans because we have this system which doesn't require people to pay any portion of the fair cost of their drug insurance," Gregg said. "It is just incomprehensible to me that the other side of the aisle, which consistently talks in terms of making sure high-income people pay a fair share of the burden of the federal government's costs, are not willing to ask those same high-income individuals pay the fair share of the cost of Medicare."

Gregg also said that the amendment would save an estimated $1 trillion over the next 75 years.

Opposing the amendment, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he is sympathetic to the "basic notion" of the amendment, but that there are many uncertainties about how its details would work. Conrad suggested that such a mandate would be difficult to envision, largely because of the way the Medicare drug benefit is administered. The drug benefit is administered and provided by more than 1,500 private drug plans, all able to charge different premiums depending on the specifics of the benefits that are offered.

Conrad also argued that the budget resolution was not the place to settle a debate of this nature. "The budget resolution will give an assignment to the Finance Committee of how much money to raise, of how much money to spend. It does not tell them how to do it. [The amendment seeks] to prescribe, to require the Finance Committee to come up with certain policy outcomes. It cannot be done through a budget resolution," Conrad said.

Conrad said because the budget resolution does not have the power to enact such policy changes, the result of the amendment would simply be less money to spend on Medicare. "The true effect will not be to do any of the policy prescriptions we talked about here. It will only be to reduce the amount of money for Medicare the Finance Committee has to meet the needs of the American people," Conrad said.

The amendment was rejected 44-52, with Democrats united against making such a change. Three Republicans sided with Democrats in defeating the amendment: Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Thus, the budget resolution went forward without language that would have required high-income recipients of Medicare's drug benefit to pay a higher premium.

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