Senate Rejects Ryan Budget Plan 57-40, Obama Plan 97-0
There were two show votes in the Senate today on competing budget plans, and they turned out just about as everyone expected:
With five Republicans joining Democrats in opposition, the Senate easily rejected a House-passed budget plan Wednesday calling for deep cuts in domestic appropriations and major restructuring of Medicare, the government-backed healthcare program for the elderly.
The 57-40 roll call proved more for show than substance but still stung for GOP leaders, coming less than 24 hours after the same Medicare issue figured prominently in the upset of a Republican candidate in a special House election in a conservative upstate New York district.
In a tell-tale sign of trouble ahead, there were significantly more defections among GOP moderates than in a similar partisan show vote in March on an earlier House Republican budget initiative focused on discretionary spending cuts.
In both cases, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a hero of the tea party movement, voted in opposition because the spending cuts did not go far enough in his opinion. But the big newcomers this time were all moderates: Maine’s two Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski—all of whom had been loyal in March.
At the same time, the Medicare controversy made it impossible to win over any Democratic moderates, despite their unhappiness with the higher spending levels of President Barack Obama’s own budget.
Typical was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) who castigated the House Republican plan for ending Medicare “as we know it” and threatening to double the out-of-pocket costs for New Hampshire seniors in the future. But minutes later she joined in voting against Obama plan, saying that it fell short of making the reforms needed to address the nation’s fiscal problems.
Indeed, the vote on the president’s plan turned into a rout, with neither Republicans nor Democrats voting in favor of taking it up. At one level, the 97-0 vote showed how out-of-date the February requests can seem after so much has changed in the spending debate already this year. But for Democrats, it also proved a convenient way to mask their substantial internal differences over how to proceed,
Obama himself has also substantially altered his February requests as part of a “new framework” announced last month just prior to House-Senate talks with the administration led by Vice President Joe Biden. The immediate goal is to find the votes needed to expand Treasury’s borrowing authority and avert default this summer, but Biden has also spoken of the package as a “down payment” toward a longer range deficit reduction plan akin to what was proposed last December by the president’s debt commission.
Other than being able to say that the Senate rejected the Ryan Plan, there really wasn’t much of a reason for Harry Reid to hold either of these votes since their outcomes were already foreknown. The question is where we go from here. Negotiations continue, but with the outcome in NY-26 one wonders if Democrats and Republicans will be in a mood to compromise, or to continue using the budget process to score cheap political points.
I pick Option Two.