WASHINGTON — Maine’s Republican senators say they will vote against the House Republican 2012 budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, mostly because of changes it would make to Medicare.

Ryan’s plan, approved by the Republican-led House, would make enormous changes in Medicare and Medicaid, which provide care to 100 million Americans. Ryan and his allies say the changes are needed if the federal government is ever to balance its books. Opponents say the plan would unravel the social safety net for the poorest Americans, while keeping taxes low for the wealthy.

Sen. Olympia Snowe outlined her opposition Tuesday during a Capitol Hill interview with MaineToday Media, while Collins reiterated the position she outlined last month. Ryan’s budget plan proposes partially privatizing Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors.

Both also said they were concerned about the budget plan’s proposal to turn Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, into a block grant program run by the states.

Senate Democratic leaders are expected to call the 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 say they will vote against the budget.

But Snowe said she doesn’t like Ryan’s plan to gradually turn Medicare into a system where beneficiaries would buy coverage from private health insurance plans with the help of a set federal subsidy that could mean an increase in their out-of-pocket costs.

Snowe also said that while she agrees that states should have more flexibility in running Medicaid, she does not believe it should be 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.

She said she has asked for ideas from Maine advocates for health care and the poor on how to run Medicaid more effectively for less money.

As happened with welfare reform, it should be possible to come up with a consensus on how to overhaul Medicaid, Snowe said. But she opposes the block grant proposal because she fears many states would simply cut needed services to save money.

“The states are the great laboratories,” Snowe said. “But we also have an overall obligation to serve specific populations under Medicaid.”

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

But she said neither the House budget plan nor President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal should be put to a simple up-or-down vote — the president’s plan is also expected to come to a Senate floor vote this week.

The only way to reach a consensus on complicated issues such as Medicare and Medicaid is to try to reach bipartisan compromise, she said.

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

Collins told reporters Tuesday that she, too, is unhappy that the Democratic-led Senate Budget Committee hasn’t come up with a budget. But she said she disagrees with Ryan’s Medicare proposal.

“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 wishes the House GOP budget cut more deeply into ethanol and farm subsidies.

Collins she is also concerned about the Medicaid block grant proposal.

“I believe that states should be given more flexibility to design Medicaid plans that would meet the needs of low-income families in their states more effectively and more efficiently, particularly in this time of state budget shortfalls,” Collins said via email later on Tuesday. “At times, however, proposals to turn Medicaid into a block grant program are used simply to cut spending. … So the details of any proposal to change Medicaid fundamentally are extremely important to my decision on whether or not to support the reforms.”

Over the next few months, as lawmakers debate whether to raise the debt ceiling, there will be other chances to shape a more bipartisan budget policy, she said.

“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.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]