U.S. senators cast enough votes to defeat a Republican proposal to privatize Medicare, a widely expected result but one that Democrats hoped would force GOP senators to vote in favor of a plan that is increasingly unpopular with voters.
The GOP plan called for for turning Medicare into a voucher-like program for future beneficiaries.
The vote was 40-67 against starting debate on the proposal. Three senators did not vote.
At the same time, Republicans are forcing a vote to put Democrats on record for or against President Obama's February budget proposal, while conservative Republicans will get votes on even more stringent plans.
Reid is staging the votes to put Republicans on record regarding a plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would transform 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 say the Ryan plan would "end Medicare as we know it" and made it the central issue in a special election Tuesday in which Democrats seized a longtime GOP district in western New York.
"The voters ... told Republicans in Washington what they think of the Ryan plan," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. "They told them exactly what they think about ending Medicare as we know it. I hope they got the message."
Democrats control the Senate with 53 votes, so Wednesday's vote on the Ryan plan was sure to fail.
Republicans who broke ranks and voted to block the measure were: Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both moderates up for re-election next year; moderate Susan Collins, also of Maine; Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska moderate; and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a conservative Tea Party favorite.
Under Congress' arcane budget process, a budget plan is not actual legislation but a nonbinding blueprint that sets a framework for future legislation. While it sets goals for raising or lowering taxes and imposing spending cuts, in most years the vote on a so-called budget resolution is mostly symbolic. In many years, that follow-up legislation is simply a round of appropriations bills.
With the House and Senate controlled by different parties, there's no hope for a final compromise between the two chambers.
In fact, Democrats have pulled the plug on the budget process for now, awaiting the results of negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and senior lawmakers in both parties that are aimed at producing an agreement on a package of spending cuts exceeding $1 trillion over the coming decade. The cuts would be packaged with must-pass legislation to permit the government to keep issuing bonds to finance its operations and keep its promises to investors in U.S. debt as it faces a deficit of $1.6 trillion this year.
The Biden-led talks are expected to take several weeks or longer as an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the so-called debt limit looms.
Republicans have been blasting Democrats on a daily basis for their failure to produce a budget, saying they're failing to live up to their responsibility as the Senate's majority party.
"At a moment when our debts and deficits threaten the very future of our nation, Democrats have no excuse for proposing no vision of their own,' said Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The top Republican on the Budget panel Sen. Jeff Session of Alabama hasn't offered an alternative, either, though conservative Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have offered stringent plans that are expected to be easily rejected.