* Senate to vote on Medicare plan this week
* Medicare dominates New York special election
* Medicare battle to continue through 2012 elections
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON, May 23 U.S. Democrats sharpened
their attack on Monday against a Republican plan to overhaul
Medicare as they prepared to force their opponents to vote on
the unpopular proposal to privatize the health program for the
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid plans a vote this week
on the Republican budget proposal, which would end traditional
fee-for-service Medicare for future retirees and instead
provide them with a voucher to purchase federally subsidized
medical plans from private insurers.
"The Republican plan would shatter a cornerstone of our
society, and would break our promise to the elderly and the
sick," Reid said in a Senate speech.
"It would turn over seniors' health to profit-hungry
insurance companies. It would let bureaucrats decide what tests
and treatments seniors get."
Polls show the proposal is disliked, particularly among
independents and the elderly whose support will be crucial to
candidates in next year's presidential and congressional
elections. Democrats are eager to put Senate Republicans on the
record on the proposal, which passed the Republican-controlled
House of Representatives last month.
Congressional aides said a vote on the House Republicans'
2012 budget proposal, which includes the Medicare plan, would
most likely take place on Thursday.
Republican Senator Scott Brown, who faces a tough
re-election bid next year in Democratic-dominated
Massachusetts, said he will vote against the plan. In an
opinion article published in Monday's Politico newspaper, Brown
said he feared it would lead to higher premiums, deductibles
and co-payments for the elderly.
MOVING THE ELECTION NEEDLE
Medicare is dominating a special election in New York where
a Democrat stands a good chance on Tuesday of winning an empty
House seat in a solidly Republican district.
"Make no doubt about it, the issue moving the needle is
Medicare," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat.
He said polls show Medicare is the top issue for voters in the
House Republican leader Eric Cantor rejected that analysis.
The election is not being driven by Medicare but rather
reflects a three-way race among Republican Jane Corwin,
Democrat Kathy Hochul, and Jack Davis, who claims Tea Party
ties, he said.
Cantor and other Republicans are trying to turn the issue
around, arguing that President Barack Obama and his fellow
Democrats opposed to the Ryan proposal are failing to save
Medicare. The program faces increasing financial difficulties
from rising healthcare costs and the aging 77 million-strong
Baby Boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964.
"The administration has dismissed our plan out of hand,"
Cantor told reporters. "We say to them, the status quo is
unacceptable and that if you accept the status quo, you're
calling for bankruptcy of the Medicare program."
The dispute over Medicare is unlikely to be resolved in
budget talks between the White House and Democratic and
Republican congressional leaders, political analysts said.
Those talks are aimed at producing a deficit reduction plan to
clear the way for Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion credit
limit in order to avoid a default on U.S. debt.
Democrats appear unwilling to give ground on Medicare in
the budget negotiations despite suggestions over the weekend by
Ryan and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that they
would be open to compromise on the issue.
Analysts see the two parties battling over Medicare through
next year's election when Democrats hope to reverse gains made
by Republicans in last year's congressional election. All 435
House seats, 33 of the Senate's 100 seats, and the White House
will be up for election in November 2012.
Those gains in large part were made by voters upset with
Obama's healthcare overhaul that cut some $500 billion in
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)