WASHINGTON — Maine’s Republican senators will vote against the House Republican 2012 budget authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, with Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in opposition to the House GOP-proposed Medicare changes.

Snowe confirmed her opposition this afternoon during a Capitol Hill interview, while Collins reiterated a position she first made known last month.

Senate Democratic leaders are expected to call up the House GOP budget for a Senate floor vote later this week, probably Thursday. Collins and Snowe join a small but growing group of Republican senators – including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and possibly Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who have announced they will vote against the proposal to partially privatize Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors, and hand over authority to run Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, completely to the states in the form of a block grant program.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a freshman Republican who is a favorite of the tea party movement, has said he will vote against the House GOP budget plan because it doesn’t cut deeply enough.

But Snowe said she doesn’t like Ryan’s plan to gradually turn Medicare into a system where beneficiaries buy their coverage from private health insurance plans, using a set payment that could mean their out-of-pocket costs increase. Snowe also said that while she agrees on providing states more flexibility with how to administer Medicaid, she does not agree that it is a good idea to turn it into a totally state-run block grant program.

“I am going to vote no on the budget because I have deep and abiding concerns about the approach on Medicare, which is essentially to privatize it,” Snowe said, noting that Maine has a high percentage of elderly residents.

Snowe said she has asked health care and low-income population advocates in Maine for ideas on how the state could more effectively deliver Medicaid coverage services for less money, saying that states often can come up with better ways to be flexible than can Washington. Like what happened with welfare reform, it should be possible to come up with a consensus solution on how to overhaul Medicaid, Snowe said.

But she opposes the Ryan proposal to block grant Medicaid because she is afraid that would result in many states around the country simply cutting needed services to save money, a “race to the bottom,” Snowe said.

“The states are the great laboratories,” Snowe said. “But we also have an overall obligation to serve specific populations under Medicaid. We don’t want to encourage a race to the bottom.”

Snowe’s position doesn’t come as a major surprise. She has been openly critical of the Medicare proposal for some time.

But Snowe complained that the Senate should not have to simply vote, up or down, on the House GOP budget, as well as on President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal which Senate Democratic leaders also are expected to put on the floor this week. The only way to reach a consensus on complicated budget and policy matters like Medicare and Medicaid is to work through the issues and try to reach bipartisan compromise, Snowe added.

Ryan and majority House Republicans at least offered up a specific budget proposal, Snowe said, which is more than Senate Democrats have done.

“He (Ryan) is not going to have all the answers or the answers that I am going to agree with, but the question is can we work to improve it, to modify it? But we don’t even have the opportunity in the Senate,” Snowe said. “That’s what we’re facing, an up or down vote, all or nothing, and it doesn’t need to be that way.”

Collins, meanwhile, told reporters today at the Capitol that she too is not happy that the Democratic-led Senate Budget Committee has failed to come up with a 2012 budget proposal. But her opposition to Ryan’s Medicare proposal remains a primary reason why she will vote against the House GOP budget, Collins said.

“Obviously we need to reduce the cost of Medicare, but I think the Ryan approach of turning it into a voucher program is not the best approach,” Collins said, adding she also was disappointed the House GOP budget didn’t achieve some of its spending cuts by cutting more deeply ethanol and farm subsidies.

Still, Collins said that she gives Ryan “a great deal of credit for coming up with a thorough approach.”
Collins said that over the next few months, as lawmakers debate whether and how to raise the debt ceiling, there will be other chances to shape a budget policy that represents more of a bipartisan consensus.

“I believe that we’re going to talk about a lot of different budgets in the next few months and I’m hopeful that we will come up with a budget that substantially reduces spending, that puts us on a glide path to reducing the debt and that will make a real difference for our economy,” Collins said.