Updated: 9:13 p.m.
Senate Democrats enthusiastically rejected the House’s budget blueprint Wednesday in a politically charged vote over the future of Medicare.
Democrats chose not to produce their own budget while bipartisan negotiations led by Vice President Joseph Biden continue and instead pivoted to a show-vote strategy, convinced that Republicans are hurting themselves by embracing the plan by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to overhaul Medicare.
A handful of Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Scott Brown (Mass.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — joined Democrats to reject the House budget, 40-57. Paul voted against it because Ryan’s plan still adds $8 trillion to the debt over the next decade.
As dramatic as the vote on Ryan’s budget was, the next vote was even more jarring: 97 Senators voted against President Barack Obama’s budget proposal, with none voting in favor. The version offered Wednesday is out of date — Obama essentially revised his stance when he outlined deeper cuts in a speech in April. However, that proposal has not been offered in legislative language.
A budget proposal by Paul was rejected on a similarly lopsided vote of 7-90. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in support of his fellow Kentucky Republican’s bill, which would slash discretionary spending, eliminate multiple Cabinet departments and dramatically reduce the size of government in an effort to balance the budget in five years.
The Senate also rejected, 42-55, a budget proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to cut deeper than Ryan’s while staying away from his Medicare plan.
Democrats went to the floor and held multiple press conferences about Ryan’s budget, ripping Republicans for being willing to cut Medicare to pay for tax breaks for the rich and corporations. New seniors “would pay more and more” for their Medicare coverage, while the wealthiest Americans would pay “less and less” in taxes, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. Democrats noted that the GOP plan would also trim existing prescription drug and wellness benefits for seniors.
“The Republican plan to kill Medicare is a plan to make the rich richer and the sick sicker,” Reid said.
The Republicans in turn accused Democrats of trying to scare seniors about Medicare without offering a plan of their own to keep it from running out of money.
“What is your constructive plan to save Medicare?” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) asked. “The trustees report says it’s going bankrupt in 2024. We are here to save Medicare … and most importantly to save our country from financial ruin.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Democrats have an “ostrich” policy of sticking their heads in the sand and practicing demagoguery instead of working in a bipartisan way to solve the problem.
And Sen. Orrin Hatch said that with Medicare facing $38 trillion in unfunded liabilities and Social Security expected to run short of its promises in 2036, Democrats are offering nothing.
“What is the Democrats’ response to this?” the Utah Republican said. “‘All is well. Nothing to see here. Please move along.’”
Hatch said that while the Democratic attacks “might make for good politics, they are terrible for the country.”
Democrats defended their decision not to offer a budget of their own.
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said it did not make sense for the Democrats to offer their own budget while the Biden talks are ongoing.
Those negotiations can actually lead to a final result, he said.
“We don’t need a Democratic budget, a Republican budget — we need an American budget,” Conrad said. “The only possibility for us to make progress is a bipartisan budget.”