On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) released the House GOP budget, which was greeted with no small amount of incredulity for being almost exactly the same as the economic platform that he and Mitt Romney ran on in 2012 — a platform that was roundly rejected by voters who decided to go with President Obama's proposals instead. But Ryan, retreating into rhetorical vagueness, claims to see the matter differently. "Are a lot of these solutions very popular, and did we win these arguments in the campaign?" he said. "Some of us think so."
As has been recounted in depth elsewhere, the Ryan budget would, in all likelihood, lead to massive cuts in aid for the poor, while dramatically reducing tax rates for the wealthy. It's hard to say with any certainty because, as Dana Milbank at The Washington Post puts it, "There are so many blanks in Ryan's budget that it could be a Mad Libs exercise." However, an independent analysis last year of the Ryan-Romney plan, which is similar in structure, showed that the math doesn't add up without draconian spending cuts and closing tax loopholes for the middle class.
The smart money is that Ryan doesn't believe his plan has a chance of passing a Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone Obama's desk. It changes Medicare into a voucher program, strips Medicaid of a guaranteed source of federal funding, and repeals ObamaCare. "In a real way the whole thing is a sop to rank and file conservatives who haven't come to grips with that reality," say Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo.
Indeed, Ryan may have angered the right wing by including the fiscal cliff deal to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of his budget projections. "You wouldn't know it from the media coverage," says Joshua Green at Bloomberg Businessweek, "but some conservatives don't agree that Ryan's budget is a shockingly right-wing 'lightning rod' proposal — they think it's too liberal. And they're deeply disillusioned by what they view as Ryan's breaking faith with the conservative movement."
But even if Ryan's budget dies in Congress, the fact of the matter is that it is out there, outlining the Republican Party's economic and fiscal priorities. "Budgets are statements of values," writes Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. "And with this budget, Ryan, once again, has revealed what Republican values are: Cutting taxes, primarily to benefit the wealthy, while savaging programs on which the poorest Americans rely."
In the end, with Ryan's budget, it will only be that much harder for the Republican Party to shed its image as the party of the rich, a reform that several conservative commentators have argued is absolutely essential to winning back power. Indeed, the Ryan budget shows that Republican officials are gambling that a makeover on immigration and social issues may be enough to turn the tide — a theory that Democrats will surely be glad to test in the next election.