By Walter Alarkon - 12/05/09 09:57 PM EST
Democrats held fast Saturday against another Republican attempt to
restore funding for a Medicare program facing cuts in the Senate
During a rare weekend session, Senate Democrats blocked a GOP move to restore about $42 billion in funding for a home healthcare Medicare program. Democrats argued that the cuts wouldn't affect Medicare patients' quality of care and would make the home healthcare benefit stronger by forcing it to be more efficient.
Republicans have sought to portray the approximately $460 billion worth of Medicare cuts in the healthcare bill as evidence that the Democrats' plans will put seniors' healthcare at risk.
"What will happen is that these programs will disappear because they'll go in the red because of the cuts these Democrats are proposing," said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the sponsor of the amendment that was rejected Saturday.
On Thursday, Republicans offered an amendment blocking all proposed Medicare cuts, but it failed on a largely party-line vote.
Democrats have pushed back against the GOP strategy by noting that the AARP supports the Medicare reductions, which will help pay for the rest of the healthcare reform legislation. Democrats accused Republicans on Saturday of standing in the way of healthcare proposals that will help all Americans, including seniors.
"They keep wanting to strip something out, they keep wanting to send the bill back so it ends this process altogether," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) "But they don't come to the floor of the Senate and show us how we could fix it more effectively and, in fact, serve seniors better rather than just embracing the status quo."
While most of the Democratic conference voted to reject the amendment, a handful of centrist Democrats joined the GOP Saturday. The Democratic defectors were Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.).
Republicans see the battle over Medicare as key to winning over public support in their attempts to stop the Democrats' healthcare proposals.
"Every survey anybody has seen on this issue shows that the American people are asking us to stop this bill," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Saturday.
A USA Today/Gallup survey released this week showed that 49 percent of Americans want their members of Congress to oppose the bill while 44 percent of Americans want their lawmakers to support it.
Republicans plan to try to attack the Democrats on Medicare again Sunday with another amendment aimed at the proposed cuts, a senior Senate GOP aide said.
Democrats are countering with their own Medicare-related amendment Sunday. The proposal by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) would limit tax deductions on pay for health insurance executives so that they could make no more than the president, whose salary is $400,000. The savings, which Democrats estimate to be $650 billion over 10 years, would go into the Medicare trust fund.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that Lincoln's amendment and other changes in the healthcare bill will lead to a more efficient healthcare system that covers more Americans.
"The fact is that our bill will, in short, save lives, save money, and save Medicare," Reid said. "It will make it possible for each and every American to afford to live a healthy life. We can't afford not to do this."