A Republican budget plan calls for essential changes to Medicare, a day after voters in upstate New York expressed their disapproval by electing a Democrat. The budget blueprint calls for tax cuts for the richest Americans and most importantly, a reduction in costs for both Medicare and Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the country's poorest citizens. Public opinion polls show both programs are extremely popular with voters.
On Wednesday the Democratic-controlled Senate voted 57 to 40 against the budget proposal, which just last month had passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives by a wide margin.
Although the outcome of Wednesday's vote was pre-ordained, five Republican Senators joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against the plan, which would radically alter Medicare, the popular government-sponsored health-care program for the elderly.
The vote followed an upset victory Tuesday for Democrat Kathy Hochul in a special election in New York's 26th congressional district.
The election was called to fill the usually safe Republican seat vacated by Chris Lee, who resigned after a gossip website published a shirtless photo of the married Congressman responding to a personal ad.
The election's real drama, however, was seeing how voters would react to the controversial Republican proposals to help trim the burgeoning budget deficit by turning Medicare into a voucher program.
Like the rest of her party, Republican Jane Corwin campaigned in the largely rural, western New York state district in support of the Medicare reforms.
Hochul campaigned against them -- and won.
The election's most immediate reverberations were felt in Washington, where Democrats now see Republicans as deeply vulnerable on Medicare in next year's 2012 congressional and presidential elections.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called Wednesday's vote in order to force Republicans to go on record for or against the Medicare budget plan.
Four Republican centrists -- Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts -- voted with the Democrats against the Republican plan.
Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ultraconservative 'tea party' member, also voted with the Democrats because he said the budget cutting did not go far enough.
Republicans were quick to respond to the vote, castigating Democrats for ignoring the long-term impact of the country's growing debt.
"The president identified the problem more than a year ago when he said that ?almost all of the long-term deficit and debt we face relates to the costs of Medicare and Medicaid,'" Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
"But Democrats in the Senate showed today that don't even want to talk about it. They rejected every single proposal to deal with it," McConnell said.
"They're so focused on an election that's nearly two years away that they can't see the crisis in front of us," he added.
Democrats, on the other hand, congratulated themselves on protecting Medicare.
"The promise of Medicare is this: if you work hard and contribute, America will make sure you are protected in retirement from the hardships of affording health care," said Reid.
"The Republican budget would break this promise," he added. "It would make life significantly more difficult and painful for America's seniors. It's as simple and as serious as that."
Scrambling to react to Wednesday's Senate budget vote, the author of the original budget plan in the House, Representative Paul Ryan, issued a video detailing what he said were the "facts" on Medicare and his reforms.
Accusing Democrats of ignoring Medicare funding problems, he said Republicans were trying to save the program, not kill it.
"Instead of working with us, the leaders of the Democratic Party have opted to play politics with the health security of America's seniors," Ryan said.
Democrats, however, felt sure they had found a powerful stick with which to beat Republicans as they head to the end of Obama's first term.
Rubbing salt in the wounds, Democrats issued a "memo" to Republicans in Congress, saying: "Revamping your 'message' won't hide the facts. The Republican budget ends Medicare as we know it... and the American people won't be fooled into thinking otherwise."