December 4, 2009

One Senator mentioned how funny it was that the same Republicans who fought so hard to stop Medicare now paint themselves as the program's champion:

The Senate voted Thursday to keep nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts in its overhaul of the health care system, protecting the bill's major source of financing against a Republican attack.

On a vote of 58 to 42, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to send the bill back to committee with orders to strip out the cuts, a move that would effectively have killed the measure. Two Democrats -- Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Webb of Virginia -- voted with all 40 Republicans on the amendment.

The vote was among the first cast on proposed changes to the package, which would spend $848 billion over the next decade to extend coverage to more than 30 million additional people and implement the most dramatic revisions to the nation's health-care system in more than 40 years. Though debate officially opened on Monday, legislative progress has been hampered by disagreements between the two parties over the terms of debate and the timing of votes. But Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) still hopes to hold a vote on final passage before the Senate adjourns for the Christmas holidays, and on Thursday he told senators to plan on working throughout the coming weekend.

The vote on Medicare cuts was the most significant of four votes held Thursday. Republicans argued that the cuts, which would slow the projected increase in Medicare by about 5 percent over the next decade, would decimate the popular program for people over 65 in order to finance an expansion of insurance coverage for younger people. Any cuts to Medicare, they argued, should instead be dedicated to preserving the program, which is scheduled to start running out of money in 2017.

"If we're going to take money from Grandma's Medicare, let's spend it on Medicare," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

Democrats, backed by an array of major senior organizations, including the AARP, argued that the cuts would extend the financial life of Medicare by several years. The cuts would not reduce guaranteed benefits or increase co-payments, they said. And because hospitals and other providers have agreed to absorb the cuts by working more efficiently, Democrats said they would not affect access to medical services.

"I think it's pretty clear that the main organizations that care about seniors support this bill," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which drafted the bill that formed the foundation for a compromise package assembled by Reid.

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