This was a vote on a motion to bring up a budget resolution sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would have cut $1.5 trillion from social programs over ten years, including cuts to public education, environmental protection, food stamps, and cancer research.
This budget resolution would also have cut more than $1 trillion from Medicaid by converting the program into a block grant, in which states would simply receive a lump sum of money from the federal government to do as they see fit. If Medicaid were converted into a block grant, states would have far more flexibility in setting eligibility requirements for the program. For example, the federal government guaranteed Medicaid coverage to children, pregnant women, and parents with dependent children who met certain income requirements. Under a block grant system, states could elect not to insure those populations, or set the threshold for eligibility much higher. Thus, if Medicaid became a block grant, many Americans could lose their Medicaid coverage.
In addition, Toomey’s proposal would have repealed a major health care reform law that established near-universal health care coverage in the U.S. That measure was signed into law by President Obama in 2010 over fierce opposition from all Republicans in Congress.
Unlike another controversial budget proposal passed in the House of Representatives and sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), this budget resolution did not convert Medicare into a voucher system in which seniors would be forced to purchase health insurance in the private market. Rather, Toomey’s budget preserved Medicare as a guaranteed, single payer health care program for the elderly.
Toomey urged support for his amendment: “A big part of my goal and what we have demonstrated in the budget I have introduced and that we will have a vote on in a little while is that we can balance this budget within 10 years. I think that is a very important goal….This government has been spending way too much money. My budget ratchets that back. The combination brings us to balance within 9 years and generates a modest surplus within 10 years….Medicaid has been doubling every 8 years and it is a big driver of the deficit we have in Washington. It is also a big driver of huge deficits across the 50 States. It is a big problem, because the states have little or no flexibility in how they administer this program. They have a big financial burden that comes with it. What I think we ought to do is take these resources, block grant them to the states, and give the States the flexibility to figure out a better way to deliver health care services to low-income people….I would strongly stress that we are staring at a full-blown crisis. We don't know whether it is a year from now or 2 years from now or 18 months or even nearer. That is impossible to know. But it is impossible to deny that we cannot continue on this course. We cannot continue running multitrillion-dollar deficits--deficits that are 10 percent of our entire economic output, that rack up this huge amount of debt as we have done in recent years.”
While Senate Democrats did not specifically address Toomey’s proposal, they criticized provisions contained in both the Ryan and Toomey budget proposals. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a progressive independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said: “ Today, as a nation with the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country, we have the 400 wealthiest people in America--just 400 people--owning more wealth than the bottom 125 million. When we deal with deficit reduction, we have to take into consideration the decline of the middle class, the increase in poverty, and the growing disparity in income and wealth between the people on top and everybody else….The Republican budget would…make savage cuts in education, nutrition, affordable housing, infrastructure, environmental protection, and virtually every program on which low- and moderate-income Americans depend. With all of the focus on spending cuts, however, the Republican budget does nothing to reduce unnecessary military spending at a time when our military budget is triple what it was in 1997.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), released a statement opposing turning Medicaid into a block grant: "Cutting Medicaid down to a block grant would be devastating. It would yank away a critical safety net from the most vulnerable among us," said Sen. Franken. "And it would put an enormous strain on our health care system by leading to more uncompensated care-driving up costs for every American who pays premiums.”
The Senate rejected the motion to bring up this budget resolution by a vote of 42-55. Voting “yea” were 42 Republicans. All 52 Democrats present and 3 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate effectively rejected a budget resolution that would have cut $1.5 trillion from social programs over ten years, including cuts to public education, environmental protection, food stamps, and cancer research—and would also have cut more than $1 trillion from Medicaid by converting the program into a block grant.