In a direct challenge to Democratic leadership, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced an amendment on Thursday night that would prohibit Congress from using reconciliation to make changes to Medicare.
Framed as an effort to protect the sanctity of entitlement programs, McCain's measure would deprive Democrats of a stream of revenue for their health care bill. The party has targeted hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts and savings to the Medicare program that it would turn around and use to pay for other reforms.
But for McCain to be the Republican face behind this effort is to distract, a bit, from its seriousness. The Senator has a fairly lengthy history of voting for reconciliation bills that do exactly what his current amendment prohibits: change Medicare.
As pointed out by a Democratic source on the Hill, the Arizona Republican has voted for nine out of 13 reconciliation bills that have been offered during his time in the Senate. Of those nine, four included cuts to Medicare.
One of those bills McCain supported was the Balanced Budget Act of 1995 (vetoed by President Clinton) which, as written by the GOP, would have cut Medicare and Medicaid by a combined $452 billion over seven years. In addition, McCain supported the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989, which included Medicare cuts; the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which cut Medicare by $115 billion over five years; and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which also cut Medicare.
"Despite the amendment he offered today to score political points, Senator McCain has supported using reconciliation to cut Medicare throughout his career, as recently as five years ago, on party-line votes, and with massive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid," the source emails.
McCain first previewed his amendment during an appearance on Meet the Press this past Sunday, in which he noted, correctly, that another entitlement program, Social Security, was exempted from reconciliation by design. His reverence for the sanctity of Medicare is what's new.
"Social Security cannot be considered in reconciliation," McCain said. "We should do the same thing with Medicare. (Sen.) Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and I will be introducing legislation: Entitlements should not be part of a reconciliation process -- i.e., 51 votes. It's too important."