Senate Democrats on Thursday forced a vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget, in a transparent effort to link Republicans to the former vice presidential nominee's controversial proposals. The budget was handily defeated — with five GOP senators joining the chamber's Democrats to vote it down — but 40 Republicans are now on record in support of turning Medicare into a voucher program and severely cutting safety-net programs the poor, all while lowering taxes for the wealthy.
Democrats were practically champing at the bit to introduce the legislation. "There seemed to be some resistance among my Republican colleagues in bringing up the House Repuublican budget for a vote," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "And it's pretty easy to see why that is. The House Republican approach has been thoroughly reviewed and just as thoroughly rejected by the American people."
"Most Republicans would rather run away from it," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "We saw that happen during the presidential campaign. And we're not going to let them run."
Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog argues that this is a win-win situation for Democrats:
For Democrats, either outcome was a victory. If Senate Republicans voted for the House GOP budget en masse, Dems would use it against them in the 2014 midterms and cite this as an example of widespread radicalism within the party. If Senate Republicans balked, Dems would be able to boast that Paul Ryan's vision is so far from the mainstream, it generated bipartisan opposition in both chambers of Congress. [MSNBC]
Of course, Republicans don't see it that way. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) focused on the fact that Ryan's plan balances the budget, while a bill proposed by Senate Democrats would not. "They are very, very determined to change the focus away from their plan to the Ryan plan," Sessions said, "and I'm not interested in talking about that right now."
Indeed, a super PAC tied to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is already up with ads attacking Democrats in the House for voting against Ryan's plan. "Families make tough decisions to balance their budget," says the the narrator of the ad, which is targeting Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.). "Why can't Washington?"
[T]he ads send a revealing signal, telegraphing the Republican strategy for converting the Ryan vision from a negative into a positive. Rather than try to repackage the Ryan plan’s voucherizing of Medicare — which is deeply unpopular — as a positive, Republicans will instead draw a contrast with Dems by focusing solely on its goal of balancing the budget. Ryan himself has signaled this, claiming that his plan "clarifies the divide between us." Ryan sums up the difference this way: "We want to balance the budget. They don’t. We want to restrain spending. They want to spend more." [The Washington Post]
In that respect, both parties have chosen winning issues. While voucherizing Medicare is an unpopular position, a majority of Americans would like to see Congress balance the budget within 10 years without raising taxes — which is what Ryan's plan offers.