By a vote of 52-48, the U.S. Senate has approved a critical amendment striking massive Medicaid cuts from the budget proposed by President Bush. The amendment, offered by Sens. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), restores $15 billion in Medicaid spending over five years to the 2006 budget. In place of the cuts, the amendment establishes a bipartisan commission that would report back with suggested changes in the program in a year.
All Democratic senators supported the amendment. They were joined by six Republicans in addition to Sen. Smith: Norm Coleman (MN), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Susan Collins (ME), Mike DeWine (OH), Olympia Snowe (ME), and Arlen Specter (PA).
"The seven Republicans who voted for the amendment deserve special thanks '“ they were under tremendous pressure to vote with the Senate leadership," the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform said in a statement (NCCNHR). In a letter to Senators before the vote, NCCNHR Executive Director Alice H. Hedt wrote: "Medicaid is the only source of long-term care assistance for almost 1 million frail elderly and disabled nursing home residents, and any changes to the program should be driven by thoughtful and well-considered policy and not by arbitrary reductions in funding."
The Associated Press characterized the vote as "an embarrassing setback to President Bush and Republican leaders." The proposed Medicaid cut was the centerpiece of the administration's deficit reduction effort, and it had lobbied hard to line up enough votes to defeat the amendment.
The House of Representatives has approved a budget resolution that slashes $20 billion from Medicaid. However, the Senate's vote now casts doubt on whether the House and Senate will be able to reach an agreement on the budget next month. If the two houses cannot agree, items in the budget like Medicaid will have to be voted on separately and would be subject to Senate filibuster.
For an Associated Press/Business Week article on the vote, click here.
For a Washington Post article on the vote, click here.