WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats wasted no time capitalizing on Tuesday's Medicare-fueled upset in a New York special election, holding a vote on the GOP budget plan Wednesday designed to put Republicans on record backing the controversial House budget plan.
The measure failed, 57 to 40, with five Republicans breaking ranks: Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
The spending plan, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would turn Medicare into a private program and transform Medicaid into a state block-grant system.
The Ryan budget was used as a Democratic rallying cry in the New York race, which saw Kathy Hochul triumph in the heavily Republican district.
Just before the vote Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the floor to portray the GOP budget in stark terms.
"The Republican plan to kill Medicare is a plan to make the rich richer and the sick sicker," Reid said. His speech repeatedly used the phrase, "Republican plan to kill Medicare."
The Senate also held three other budget votes demanded by the GOP -- on the the president's spending blueprint -- which the White House has already shifted away from -- and two offered by Republicans that cut even more deeply than Ryan's.
They all failed, with the White House's defunct plan going down 97 to 0.
Republicans lambasted the whole procedure as a political stunt.
"This isn't a serious attempt to try to fix the problem," said Sen. Mike Johanns. "This is all about messaging."
"Sadly, passage was never the intention here," the Nevada Republican added. "These votes, I guarantee, are all about political fodder for next year's election."
The Republican budget leader, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, blamed New York's Chuck Schumer, the past head of the Democratic Senate campaign team, of orchestrating the evening's show.
"He's going to claim the Ryan budget as, 'an example of why we need to keep the Senate Democratic -- in order to counter House Republicans. We will point to this week and say, the Republicans tried to end Medicare but a Democratic majority stopped it,'" Sessions said.
"It's that simple," the Alabama Republican added. "A pure, political, open statement of raw politics. Where is the national interest?"
In fact, Democrats argued earlier that the national interest was in stopping Republicans -- and the vote in upstate New York proved it.
"Last night the people of America resoundingly spoke in rejecting the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it," said Reid. "The No. 1, 2 and 3 issue in that congressional district, as it is all over the country, is destroying Medicare as we know it, putting insurance companies between patients and their physician."
Democrats suggested their argument would crush the GOP in 2012.
"American families understand what's going on here," said Washington Sen. Patty Murray. "So I'm confident that Senate Democrats will be able to play offense in races across the country by remaining focused on Republican effort to end Medicare."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of Rep.-elect Hochul's earliest backers, said of the New York race: "It's a bellwether for elections to come."
Republicans blamed the stinging loss on the presence of an erratic third candidate and a poor performance by GOP nominee Jane Corwin. Privately, they acknowledged the Medicare issue hurt, an opinion born out by polls.
But they -- and some Democrats involved in the New York special election -- warned that Democrats shouldn't count their 2012 ballots before they're cast.
For one, Hochul turned out to be an excellent campaigner -- a factor that's hard to replicate.
"As much as Medicare was an issue... she has that certain likeability that, as a candidate, you either have or you don't have," said one Hochul campaigner. "You walk away from her feeling like this is a good person who is in it for the right reasons."
"Like Sarah Palin has a phony folksy moose-killing thing she does -- Hochul has that in a genuine, Buffalo sort of way," the Democrat told The Huffington Post.
Another to not read too much into Hochul's victory: Democrats had won two special elections in New York prior to being blown out by the GOP in the 2010 midterms.
But Reid predicted that this time is different.
"I think the American people are very certain that this Medicare radical change is not something they want," Reid said. "And I think that's why you have Republicans stumbling all over themselves. They were doing it [Tuesday]. But after this [New York] vote, it's a mad rush to stumble over themselves."
"Of course they're concerned," he added. "They should be."
UPDATED -- 7:45 p.m. Comments from Republicans, Democrats in New York, and the prediction from Reid were added to this report.
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