Ryan vs. Obama May Be March Madness, but Can Anybody Win?

The only things that have changed from the bracket-laden budget fight of the campaign are a few specific numbers, like switching the second two in "2012" to a three. Indeed, Washington is gearing up for an Obama-Ryan budget rematch — and it's a contest that each side seems all too eager to have.

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Remember the run-up to November 2012? Among other things, it featured an epic struggle between an incumbent president and his political challengers, featuring extended top-level debate over the government's spending priorities... with charts! And brackets! Well, nostalgists — get ready for Round Two.

Last year's presidential race, came down to a number of issues — who built what, etc. — but the budget debate was unquestionably a huge component and was the clearest example of Paul Ryan battling Barack Obama. The Republican presidential ticket's fiscal agenda largely mirrored Ryan's House plan: protect defense and other traditional Republican priorities while cutting social services. The Obama campaign proposal: revenue increases and minor money-saving tweaks.

The only things that have changed this year are a few specific numbers, like switching the second two in "2012" to a three. Washington is gearing up for an Obama-Ryan budget rematch — and it's a fight that each side seems all too eager to have.

On Tuesday, Ryan released the updated version of his House Budget Committee proposal. (Our overview is here.) On Wednesday afternoon, the Democrats joined the fight, with Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray of Washington unveiling that group's document — which, as the Associated Press points out, is it's first since President Obama took office. If you'd like the very, very short version of the Senate budget, we recapped it; if you'd like to read the whole thing, it's here, with line-item proposals here.

When Murray leaked a teaser overview of the plan on Tuesday, we noted that the timing was deliberate, intended to steal attention from the budget proposal released that same day by Ryan. The full proposal wastes no time continuing that fight. Here's how Murray summarizes the proposal:

  • Fully replaces the harmful cuts from sequestration with smart, balanced, and responsible deficit reduction ...
  • Invests in long‐term economic growth and national competitiveness by tackling our serious deficits in infrastructure, education, job training, and innovation to create jobs …
  • Includes a $100 billion targeted jobs and infrastructure package that would start creating new jobs quickly …
  • Protects and continues tax cuts for the middle class and low‐income working families.

Those bullet points sound as if they could have come directly from Obama 2012 campaign literature. Unsurprisingly, the White House quickly embraced the proposal, as reported by Politico.

"The Senate Democratic budget is a concrete plan that will grow our economy and shrink our deficits in a balanced way, consistent with the President’s belief that our economy grows best from the middle-out, not the top-down, while reducing the debt as a share of the economy," [press secretary Jay] Carney said in a statement.

And Jay Carney invariably drew the comparison to Ryan.

[Carney] said that now that both parties have plans on the table -- House GOP budget chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled his Tuesday -- it is clear that while there are differences, both sides share some common goals.

The Democrats are clearly wearing their eagerness for this fight on their sleeve. And why not? The party handily won a contest drawn largely along the same lines only four months ago. Obama versus Ryan; cuts-and-revenue versus austerity. The final score of that game was 65,907,213 to 60,931,767.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ryan and the Republicans are looking forward to the fight, too. As Stu Rothenberg notes at Roll Call:

Whatever you think of the proposal as a policy document, Republicans are gambling that they will benefit from a comparison between the Ryan budget and a budget that Senate Democrats are offering.

“The whole point of the Ryan budget is to have a fight with the Democrats,” one GOP strategist told me recently. “The alternative is the status quo, and we haven’t done very well with that.”

That's one argument, though not a great one. Here's a better one: In 2012, the electorate was American voters. In 2013, it's members of Congress — and Paul Ryan wins the House 232 to 200. Mitt Romney could only have dreamed of voter demographics like that.

Welcome to 2013, 2012 part two, with one big, horrifying difference: There's no election day. Meaning that this fight can last as long as either side wants to keep it going. Budget talk and debate until the end of time — or at least until 2014.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.