WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday rejected the House of Representatives' controversial Republican budget plan by 57-40, one that would dramatically revamp Medicare while cutting spending by $4.4 trillion over 10 years to reduce future federal budget deficits.
The primary purpose of the vote, engineered by the Democrats who run the Senate, was to score political points.
Democrats were giddy all day after they won an upset victory Tuesday in a special election for an upstate New York U.S. House seat in a historically Republican district. Winner Kathy Hochul had campaigned vigorously against the House GOP budget, charging that it would devastate Medicare.
Democrats seized on her victory as evidence that their intense campaign against the House Medicare plan was working.
"We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare," said House Democratic campaign Chairman Rep. Steve Israel of New York.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada carried the message to the Senate floor, calling the GOP proposal "a plan that would shatter the cornerstone of our society ... the promise to the old and sick."
Republicans protested vigorously, saying the New York result had been badly misread, and derided the Senate vote to reject the House GOP budget as a cynical waste of time.
First, they pointed out, Hochul won with only 47 percent. Republican Jane Corwin got 43 percent, and Jack Davis, who was listed on the ballot as a "tea party" candidate, got 9 percent. So Republicans argued that the Democrat won only because the majority conservative vote was split.
Second, Republicans contended, Democratic scare tactics about Medicare won't work.
"Republicans are trying to scare seniors? That's rich," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who called the Democratic attacks on Medicare a "verbal assault" that was "deliberate and premeditated."
Where, Republicans asked, is the Senate Democratic budget plan? None has been offered, and none is imminent.
"Nothing: That's their answer to this crisis," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "Their focus is on an election that's still almost two years away."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., argued that his party is quite serious about budgeting and that the big decisions are likely to come from a bipartisan negotiating group led by Vice President Joe Biden, which has been holding regular meetings seeking a compromise.
"The only possibility for us to make progress is a bipartisan budget," Conrad said.
The House plan, authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., won House approval last month, 235-193. All yes voters were Republicans, while four GOP lawmakers joined 189 Democrats in opposition.
GOP leaders, and most Republican presidential candidates, have touted the House budget as the blueprint for Republican-style change. Republicans who voice doubts have been scorned; when GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said last week that the House-passed Medicare plan would be "right-wing social engineering," he was sharply criticized by many GOP loyalists.
The House budget is a striking contrast to President Barack Obama's.
Republicans would restructure Medicare, the health insurance program for seniors and some people with disabilities. For those who retire after 2021, the GOP plan would offer subsidies to help them buy private health insurance. Democrats would preserve the current system — in which the government pays medical providers directly for care — though they pledge to cut the program's costs.
Republicans also want lower taxes for the top earners, arguing that would mean more money in private hands and therefore more investment and job creation. Democrats think the government could provide more opportunity by spending more to boost education and infrastructure.
The GOP plan would lower the top individual and corporate tax rates, now 35 percent, to 25 percent. Democrats would end the Bush-era tax cuts for top earners, which expire at the end of 2012.
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