The Senate on Wednesday voted down House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s controversial budget blueprint, 57 to 40, in a Democratic effort to win advantage in continuing deficit talks and in the 2012 election season.
The vote marked an effort by Democrats to exploit public opposition to the Wisconsin Republican’s plan to shift Medicare to a subsidy system. A special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District on Tuesday, won by a Democratic underdog, became something of a referendum on the Ryan plan, and Democrats see opposition to it as a potent political weapon in 2012.
Still, it is unclear how much voting in support of the plan will bother Senate Republicans going forward. Some polls show efforts to sell the Ryan plan as an effort to save Medicare from fiscal collapse can succeed with voters. And Republicans who might be hurt in the next year's elections by backing the plan—Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, opposed it.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who is up for reelection in 2012, backed the plan, but Lugar’s main challenge is the GOP primary. Many observers think he will retire or fail to gain the GOP nomination in any event. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., newly appointed from the House to replace Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on Wednesday cast his second vote for the plan, which Democrats will work to exploit in Heller’s 2012 race.
Democrats have yet to offer their fiscal 2012 budget resolution. In forcing a vote on Ryan’s plan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took what Republicans called an unprecedented step of forcing a vote on a budget that he opposes without offering one he supports. The maneuver highlighted Senate Democrats’ decision to mostly abandon an affirmative legislative agenda and instead highlight opposition to GOP plans. Democrats can argue they are acting out of necessity because they cannot pass—in either the Senate or the House—most of their preferred legislation.
“This is a complete and total abdication of their responsibilities,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “And there is no excuse for it. We have an obligation to come up with a plan. Democrats are officially abdicating that responsibility this week.”
The Senate was also set to vote on President Obama’s original fiscal 2012 budget plan, on a budget resolution by Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., then on an alternative budget resolution by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. All of the budgets were expected to fall short of the 51 votes needed to start consideration of the bill under budget rules.
Democrats hope the votes will demonstrate that House Republicans must compromise to reach a deficit deal and raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, making it easer to cut a deal in ongoing talks led by Vice President Joe Biden.