This was a vote in the Senate on a motion to bring up a budget resolution for fiscal year 2012 that had already passed the House of Representatives. When this budget resolution passed the House, every Democrat voted against it, while all but four Republicans voted in favor of it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had vowed to hold a vote on the budget measure in the Senate, which had the effect of forcing Republican senators to go on record as either having supported or opposed highly controversial provisions in the House budget resolution relating to Medicare.
Specifically, the budget resolution passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would convert Medicare—which is a guaranteed, government-provided single payer health care program for the elderly—into a voucher program in which seniors would purchase health insurance in the private market. Democrats quickly and relentlessly criticized the measure, arguing it would force seniors to pay more than they could afford for health insurance, and would leave them without adequate access to medical care. On the day before this vote occurred, Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset victory in a heavily Republican congressional district in Western New York after campaigning against the House Republicans’ Medicare proposal. (The Republican candidate in that race, Jane Corwin, had supported the plan.)
This 2012 budget resolution also would have cut $770 billion from Medicaid—the health insurance program for the poor that is funded jointly by the federal government and states. In order to generate $770 billion in savings, the Republican 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.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) praised the House budget resolution: “Congressman [Paul] Ryan [R-WI, the sponsor of the House budget resolution], in the House, has proposed, and the House has passed, a budget blueprint for our country….We do need to address entitlement reform. We do need to make changes to Medicare--to preserve Medicare for those who are relying on Medicare right now and for future generations. I am the mother of two children, and I certainly don't want to look my children in the eyes--with the fiscal crisis our country is facing--and have them say to me: Mom, what did you do about this? Now is the time to act.…I commend Congressman Ryan for his courage.…A constructive plan to preserve this program is important. It is what Republicans are committed to. We are here to save Medicare, to save our entitlement programs, and most of all, to save our country from financial ruin. Now is the time for leadership. It is time to look at the challenges we face with eyes wide open and to have the courage to fight for the American people and for the future of the greatest country in the world. We cannot afford to kick this can down the road.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) opposed this budget resolution: “...At a time when our middle class is struggling to get back to their feet, the Republicans did not address education or infrastructure or energy or defense but instead chose to do two things: end Medicare as we know it…instead of guaranteeing Medicare coverage for a fixed set of benefits for every senior--as Medicare does now--the Republican plan gives seniors a coupon and says: Good luck. Go buy your insurance. If the insurance goes up, too bad. In fact, seniors would pay $6,359 more a year. In my working-class community, that is real money. That is money senior families do not have. That is money families do not have because they are wrestling just to pay their basic expenses through Social Security….Indeed, under the Republican plan, whereas seniors contribute 25 percent of their health care costs today, they would, by 2030, pay 68 percent, more than two-thirds--more than two-thirds. That is devastating.”
[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.)]
The Senate rejected the motion to bring up the House budget resolution by a vote of 40-57. Voting “yea” were 40 Republicans. All 52 Democrats present and 5 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate effectively rejected a budget resolution that would have set the parameters for all federal government spending, 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.