The Senate is supposed to be in recess all this week, but discussion and analysis of the Medicare provisions in the House-passed budget proposal drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) continues to dominate national health policy discussions.
The Senate rejected a motion to debate the House-passed budget last Wednesday by a vote of 40-57. All Democrats voted against the measure and Republican senators Scott Brown (MA), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Olympia Snowe (ME) voted against the measure because of their opposition to its Medicare provisions. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also voted against consideration of the bill because he said it does not do enough to address the federal budget deficit.
Following the failed vote on the Ryan budget plan, Senate Republicans pushed for a formal Senate vote on President Obama’s original budget proposal that was submitted to Congress in February. The president’s February budget proposal didn’t win a single vote—the final tally was 0-97.
The Senate action on the budget proposals came one day after Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election in a historically Republican district in upstate New York. Public opposition to the Ryan plan’s Medicare provisions has been cited as a contributing factor to Hochul’s victory.
Now that the Senate has rejected the Ryan budget proposal, pending action from Vice President Biden’s bipartisan budget group takes on even greater significance. News reports say they are working to go beyond the tentatively agreed-upon federal spending cuts of $150 billion over 10 years. Biden’s group is seen as increasingly important, since the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” budget negotiators appear to be faltering, with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) leaving the group last week.
The federal government has reached its borrowing limit and the federal Treasury Department is currently using its administrative power to forestall government defaults. Based on current Treasury estimates, policymakers have until August 2 to devise and pass compromise legislation. The administration’s goal is to raise the debt limit to about $16.5 trillion, enough to last through the 2012 presidential election, and in exchange for that the GOP is negotiating for deep spending cuts.