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Health on the Hill Transcript – Democrats Push Senate Budget Vote On GOP Medicare Plan

KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about Democratic efforts to get Senate Republicans on the record on an increasingly unpopular GOP budget that includes big changes to Medicare by scheduling a vote this week. The move is seen by some as a strictly political move that won’t bring lawmakers closer to agreement on a budget.

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JACKIE JUDD: Good day, this is Health on the Hill. I’m Jackie Judd. The Senate is expected to vote this week on the budget that the House passed earlier, which transforms Medicare for future retirees. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged in an interview with Fox News this would not move the ball on getting a budget passed.

(Video Clip)

MITCH MCCONNELL: What I’ve said to our members are that we’re not going to be able to coalesce behind just one. And we may well vote on the Ryan budget. I’m going to make sure that the Democrats get to vote on the Obama budget, which my counterpart, Harry Reid, thought was terrific back in February. So, there will votes on several different budgets in the Senate. Candidly, Chris, none of these budgets are going to become law, and the real action on deficit reduction is down at the White House in the meetings headed by the vice president.

(End of Clip)

JACKIE JUDD: So, more action on the Hill, but little actual movement on enacting a budget. Here to review the state of play is Mary Agnes Carey, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News. Welcome as always, Mary Agnes.


JACKIE JUDD: Is this vote being called by the Democrats purely for the purpose of getting the Republicans on the record, forced to pick a side on this budget and in particular the controversial proposal about Medicare?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Absolutely. Democrats want to have Republicans vote on Paul Ryan’s premium support plan, which many have viewed as too radical, too overwhelming. They want to get Republicans on record either for or against it. But, conversely, Republicans have said, and Sen. McConnell said, I want to see a vote on the president’s budget plan for fiscal 2012, which has been criticized as not aggressive enough to control the deficit, so of course, the Republicans want to get the Democrats on: Are you voting for or against that proposal?

JACKIE JUDD: How tricky has it become for Republicans? Let’s talk about Republicans for the moment. Scott Brown wrote an op-ed piece that was published in Politico Pro, after he felt he had been misquoted, in which he said he will not vote for the Ryan budget because of the Medicare proposals. So how tricky has it become, not only for him but for the others?

MARY AGNES CAREY: I think Republicans are trying to find their comfort zone here. Some conservatives think Paul Ryan picked absolutely the right approach on Medicare. There are some in the middle that say they like the idea of premium support, they don’t like the way he constructed it. And there are Republicans who don’t want anything to do with this issue, a year away from an election, where the White House and Congress are at stake. They’re seeing how the Democrats have gone after Republicans on Paul Ryan’s plan. So some Republicans would prefer not to even touch it.

JACKIE JUDD: And was the whole dust-up last week with Newt Gingrich, presidential candidate, and Paul Ryan — after Gingrich said it amounts to social engineering — it must have been instructive to Republicans about what can happen when you begin choosing sides in this debate.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Absolutely. You have very conservative Republicans come out and say that Newt Gingrich cut Paul Ryan off at the knees. Newt Gingrich had to eventually apologize to Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan said he’s accepted that. I thought it was really interesting to look at the reactions, and how volatile they were, and how that might shape the message going forward.

JACKIE JUDD: In that sound bite that we just heard of Mitch McConnell, he said that the real action, the real decision-making, will take place down the street, close to the White House, where Vice President Biden will be meeting with his commission on deficit reduction. What is happening with those talks?

MARY AGNES CAREY: They’ve had some preliminary discussions. There’s a meeting again tomorrow. There’s a lot of focus now with this Gang of Six in the Senate falling apart, that was a bipartisan group of people that didn’t come to a deal. It looks like they’re not going to get one. Now people are really looking at Vice President Biden’s panel: It’s bicameral, it’s bipartisan, and again, we’re up against this August deadline, August 2nd deadline, to raise the debt ceiling. So the thought is, If they can at least get the parameters for a deal, perhaps that could mean there’s bipartisan accord there on how to control federal spending and reduce the deficit.

JACKIE JUDD: Ok. Thank you so much. Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News.

MARY AGNES CAREY: My pleasure.