Democrats intentionally scheduled the vote less than 24 hours after a Democrat won a special election in New York's 26th -- and heavily Republican -- congressional district, on the strength of defending Medicare from a GOP onslaught. The outcome of that election heightened the political stakes, but sent few Republicans bolting for the exits.
"I've been surprised a lot of the times about how they're voting here," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a press conference after the vote.
To shelter GOP dissidents from the vote to privatize Medicare, but also to shore up their bona fides on the right, the Senate also held a test vote on a similarly austere alternative budget authored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). The key difference? The Toomey plan remains vague on the question of how to reduce Medicare spending over time. All but three voting Republicans -- Collins, Snowe, and Brown -- voted to proceed with that plan, which would slash spending at a faster rate than even the House budget.
On tap, too, was a test vote on President Obama's 2012 budget, now shelved as Vice President Joe Biden negotiates spending and deficit cuts with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders. All voting members opposed the plan, which failed 0-97, providing Republicans a talking point they're already trumpeting, and will push hard this election season.
"Everyone knows that if something happens with the Biden group or perhaps the Gang of Five, then there's going to have to be some type of instrument, and that's why we don't want to do the budget thing now, because we have all these other things going on," Reid explained.
Rounding things out was a test vote on an eye-popping plan by Rand Paul to dramatically and rapidly slash the size of the federal government -- in part by abolishing a number of federal agencies. It won the support of a small core of the most conservative members of the GOP -- Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike Lee (R-UT), David Vitter (R-LA), and Paul himself, along with his Kentucky colleague, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But it failed by a wide 90-7 margin.