WASHINGTON -- Joined by several moderate Republicans on Wednesday, Democrats controlling the Senate rejected a controversial House budget plan for turning Medicare into a voucher-like program for future beneficiaries.
Five Republicans joined every Democrat in killing the measure, which calls for transforming Medicare into a program in which future beneficiaries, people now 54 years old and younger, would be given a subsidy to purchase health insurance rather than have the government directly pay hospital and doctor bills.
Democrats said the GOP plan would "end Medicare as we know it," and they made it the central issue in a special election Tuesday in which Democrats seized a longtime GOP district in western New York, rattling Republicans.
Several moderate Republicans joined every Democrat present in opposing the stringent House plan. They were Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Tea-party favorite Rand Paul of Kentucky opposed the plan from the right since it doesn't actually balance and would add trillions of dollars to the U.S. debt.
Republicans faulted Democrats controlling the Senate for failing to offer a plan of their own.
Republicans immediately forced a vote on President Barack Obama's February budget proposal, which opened to chilly reviews for failing to aggressively tackle issues like the long-term future of benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the plan.
Critics point to a nonpartisan analysis by the Congressional Budget Office predicting the House Medicare plan would pay a shrinking share of seniors' insurance premiums over time and would lead them to either choose policies that offer less generous coverage or force them to pay thousands of dollars a year in higher premiums to maintain the coverage currently offered by Medicare.