The Republican Party's base was delighted to see House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) new budget plan, its deep spending cuts, its unyielding attempt to eliminate Medicare, and its tax cuts. But perhaps no one was quite as pleased to see the new House GOP plan as those working on the Democrats' 2014 midterm strategy.
By mid-day, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had already released a target list -- it featured two incumbent Republican senators and 14 incumbent Republican House members who may be looking for a promotion -- with lawmakers who'll be pressed on their support for Ryan's vision.
In a conference call organized by the DSCC, pollster Geoff Garin told reporters, "The Ryan budget will be a gift that gives throughout the 2014 cycle for Democrats." DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil added that privatizing Medicare will be important, but the Ryan plan also leaves Republicans vulnerable on issues like education and tax fairness.
"What the Ryan budget does to education ... is really fertile ground in terms of speaking to voters about how and why Republican candidates are out of touch," said Cecil. "They are unwilling to compromise. They are doubling down on their extreme policies, and the Ryan budget will cement that view."
For his part, Ryan defended his far-right agenda, insisting yesterday that "a lot of these solutions [are] very popular."
I'd love to hear the Wisconsin congressman flesh this out a bit. If there are "a lot" of "very popular" ideas in his budget plan, can he name, say, three? Indeed, can anyone offer a list of provisions in the Ryan plan that enjoy broad popular support from the American mainstream? I'd love to see it, but I'm reasonably certain it doesn't exist. In fact, I seem to recall a national election cycle that wrapped up four months ago in which "a lot" of these GOP proposals weren't "very popular" at all.
Ryan and his allies would be vastly better off arguing that this agenda may not be popular, but it's the right thing to do. They'd be wrong, but at least they wouldn't be pretending the polls don't exist.
I should note, however, that there are skeptics who are predicting the Ryan plan won't affect 2014 as much as Democrats would like to believe.
Chris Cillizza, for example, isn't buying it.
Democrats have insisted for the last several years that the Ryan budget -- and, specifically, the plan's re-imagining of Medicare -- was their ace in the hole when it came to winning back (or retaining) control of Congress.Results were somewhat mixed. Senate Democrats note that the issue of eliminating Medicare -- if not the Ryan budget in particular -- came up in a number of competitive races in 2012, often to great effect for their side. They also point out that national Republicans spent several hundred thousand dollars on ads touting GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg's opposition to the Ryan plan. (Rehberg lost.)And yet, predictions -- like the one made by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) -- that the Ryan budget would hand House control back to Democrats in 2012 didn't happen.
Clearly, the Speaker's gavel is not in Nancy Pelosi's hand. That said, President Obama won re-election fairly easily; Senate Democrats defied expectations and expanded their majority; and House Democrats gained seats and, in raw vote totals, beat their House GOP counterparts by well over 1 million votes. Did the Ryan budget play a role in this? It's hard to say with certainty, of course, but it's hardly a stretch to think it helped.
What's more, note in that 2012, the presidential race was the dominant political story. In 2014, the focus will be on House and Senate races, and there will more attention paid to lawmakers' votes -- including those who voted to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher scheme.
A senior GOP operative told Cillizza, "House Republicans continue to put out proposals that give the party as a whole a black eye, but are destined to go nowhere.... We can't continue to appear to be so extreme, and hope that voters are just going to buy it. Paul is a smart guy, and yes this is what has to happen -- but the voters aren't there."