THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Brown vows to vote against GOP budget plan

Medicare overhaul harmful, he says

SAYS SENIORS PUT AT RISK “I fear that . . . the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and copays,’’ Brown wrote in the op-ed. SAYS SENIORS PUT AT RISK
“I fear that . . . the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and copays,’’ Brown wrote in the op-ed.
By Theo Emery and Mark Arsenault
Globe Staff / May 24, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Senator Scott Brown, after signaling earlier this month that he would vote for a controversial House budget plan, said yesterday he will vote against the budget blueprint and its overhaul of Medicare.

Brown said yesterday in an op-ed article on the Politico website that he will not support the House budget and its Medicare overhaul — crafted by the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — because he believes it would expose seniors to increasing costs of deductibles and copays.

“While I applaud Ryan for getting the conversation started, I cannot support his specific plan and therefore will vote ‘no’ on his budget,’’ Brown wrote.

Brown told business leaders in Newburyport on May 13 that he would vote for the House GOP budget plan, saying that “the leaders will bring forward [the GOP] budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail.’’ His staff later described the comments as an observation on the partisan process in Capitol Hill that weren’t intended to stake out how he would vote.

Ryan’s Medicare overhaul, which would gradually raise the eligibility age and change the way Medicare is funded, has drawn heavy criticism from Democrats, some Republicans, and senior citizens who say the elderly would be forced to pay more for their care.

Brown becomes at least the third Republican senator to disavow the House budget. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said she opposes it, as does Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Like Brown, other candidates and elected officials find themselves under pressure to explain where they stand on the budget. Senate Democrats are pushing for a vote as soon as tomorrow that they believe will give them a weapon against Republicans in individual elections.

“Given the importance of Republican activists in presidential primaries, it’s another litmus test for Republicans along with cutting taxes,’’ said Thomas E. Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution. “On the other hand, anyone who has to run in a district or a state with any potential for being competitive has to be very wary with being identified with it.’’

Asked about the timing, a spokesman said in an e-mail that Brown came out with his position because of the likelihood that the Senate will vote on the plan this week.

Brown has insisted that his position has been consistent on the Ryan budget: approval of its general direction, without saying whether he would vote for it. But his comments in Newburyport suggesting that he would vote for it unleashed a firestorm of criticism.

His aides quickly tried to tamp down the criticism by saying he was only making a political observation, and wasn’t expressing which way he would vote. Then late last week, he told Boston radio station WTKK that “I can’t support it,’’ and laid out reasons in the op-ed yesterday.

Brown wrote: “I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support — and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and copays.’’ Another reason, he wrote, is that “Medicare has already taken significant cuts to help pay for Obama’s health care plan,’’ putting seniors “at risk of losing their Medicare Advantage coverage.’’

Brown noted that some action is needed if Medicare is to survive. He urged: “We should start by making improvements to the traditional Medicare plan.’’

Most Americans do not see a pressing need to rein in Medicare spending. According to an Associated Press opinion poll conducted this month, 54 percent think it is possible for the federal government to balance its books without cutting spending on Medicare.

Democrats are more than happy to try to put Republicans on the defensive over the plan. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the Senate vote will make clear to the nation “which side put Medicare on the chopping block, which side stood up to defend it.’’

“The Republicans are getting the worst of both worlds. They want to distance themselves from this vote. . . . They have tried to turn themselves into pretzels to figure out how to deal with this awful plan passed by the House.’’

Republicans are aware that GOP senators are in an awkward position, caught between party loyalty and a proposal that has proven to be deeply unpopular with the public. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has acknowledged that he will not twist senators’ arms to vote for the Ryan measure, telling Fox News over the weekend that “we’re not going to be able to coalesce’’ behind one budget.

Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, yesterday called the vote on the House budget a “gimmick’’ to distract attention from the fact that Democrats have no plan of their own. All 47 Senate Republicans wrote to majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada yesterday asking Democrats to come forward with a plan.

The issue has already begun to factor into the early presidential campaigns. Former House speaker and 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently broke ranks with a fellow Republican in a TV interview, calling the Ryan Medicare plan “right-wing social engineering’’ and unleashing a fierce backlash from conservatives. Gingrich promptly apologized, recanted his words, and warned Democrats not to use his comments to attack the Ryan plan.

In Massachusetts, the earlier uncertainty over Brown’s position led to public criticism from Democrats, unions, and advocates for the elderly. Two Democratic opponents of Brown, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and Bob Massie, released statements criticizing him for what they portrayed as waffling.

As many Republicans cooled to the Ryan plan, there was a stampede of defectors, “and Brown is one of them,’’ said Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Richard Parker. But Parker said he doubts that Brown’s “back and forth on the issue’’ will do him much damage.

“If I were Scott Brown’s guys, I wouldn’t worry too much,’’ said Parker. “Until the Democrats in this state get a candidate who can actually do damage to him, I think he’s in good shape for reelection.’’

Theo Emery can be reached at temery@globe.com. Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com