Republicans face an uphill battle in selling their plan to the public and an impossible one in trying to pass it into law.
With the furor over outdated toys finally quieting down, it's a good time to revisit Paul Ryan's budget, released earlier this week. Wednesday night, the budget squeaked through the House Budget Committee, which sent it to the House overall. The Business Channel has covered some of the policy particulars of the plan, but here are a few of the most important political angles.
1. Why can't anyone say no to Paul Ryan? One reason for the muted response to the plan is that we've seen this movie before, in a slightly different cut. Ryan's proposal is very similar to the plan he proposed last year: It adopts a similar method for cutting Medicare expenditures and maintains a similar timeline for reducing the deficit. And as you may recall, last year's budget was a political fiasco. President Obama slammed the plan (with Ryan looking on, annoyed), Democrats accused the GOP of backing policies that would hurt seniors, and a Republican lost a special election in New York that became a referendum on Ryan's Medicare plan.
Why the repeat? Jake Sherman has an excellent, deeply reported story in Politico Thursday on the process. It's true that the party planned better, testing its message with key constituencies and trying to anticipate the likely attacks. On the other hand, here's how Sherman sums this year's strategy up: "The 2012 plan is -- simply put -- to not talk about the plan too much."
You can see why many Republicans aren't feeling great. Chris Cillizza rounded up some GOP strategists whose reactions ranged from dyspeptic to disconsolate. Here's another reaction:
GOP staffer emails: "The GOP budget is a great tool to further divide our caucus & provide fodder for Dem attack ads. Thank you Paul Ryan."— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) March 20, 2012
The problem is that no one seems to know how to tell Ryan no. The GOP has branded him as their policy genius, a budget wonk par excellence. Now they can't help go back: regardless of what he proposes, they have to go with it. Because Ryan believes strongly in his approach and seems to have little ambition for higher office, his party is stuck riding shotgun in whatever vehicle he chooses.
2. Can conservatives close ranks around the plan? Watch for members of the GOP caucus, and the conservative coalition overall, to try to tuck and roll out of the moving car. The House majority has been famously fractious, repeatedly rebelling against Speaker John Boehner. There are already signs of trouble. Two Republicans dissented during the committee vote Wednesday night -- because they felt the budget wasn't austere enough. The influential Club for Growth attacked the plan on similar grounds. The more moderate and electorally vulnerable wings of the party are nervous, too. For example, Rep. Denny Rehberg, who's headed into a very tight Senate election in November, is pointedly withholding judgment. And the party's defense-hawk wing is likely to take issue with the massive cuts to defense spending that the plan would institute. If past experience is a guide, the GOP leadership will eventually wrangle a majority to pass the plan, but only after a damaging circus. Fortunately for them, Majority Leader Eric Cantor -- who has sometimes undermined Boehner -- is on board with the Ryan plan.