Paul Ryan may be the intellectual leader of GOP fiscal conservatism but his proposals are starting to freak Republican lawmakers out. With an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this morning, the unveiling of his budget plan at 10 a.m. and a new slickly-produced web infomercial—today is a big day for the Wisconsin congressman. The gist of his budget plan is to reduce the deficit to a manageable size by cutting Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps and other programs while lowering taxes. The ideas themselves are ones rank-and-file Republicans genuinely believe will help the country but the timing combined with the inclusion of third-rail topics like Medicare is terrifying campaign strategists.
Of immediate concern is how the Democrats, who rarely shy away from a good "scare the pensioners" opportunity, are going to use the issue. According to Politico, the answer is early and often. "Democrats are organizing media blitzes, House floor speeches and town halls back home to seize on the changes to Medicare that Republicans are expected to propose Tuesday," reports Seung Min Kim. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen tells her that Republicans "can run, but they cannot hide from their Medicare plan." A senior Democratic aide says “For the next few days, all our focus is going to be on Medicare."
Normally, Republicans aren't supposed to blink in the face of this kind of attack. They're the party of fiscal responsibility and the pitch is to say, yes, the cuts may hurt but it's the responsible thing to do. Well Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post are hearing a different tune. “As a campaign issue, the budget is a significant challenge for GOP candidates,” GOP strategist Bob Honold said. “As a campaign strategy, it is so much more difficult for Republicans to communicate their responsible solutions than it is for Democrats to spook seniors with rhetoric.”
It's also not so much that Ryan's argument is difficult to sell, it's that the Republicans didn't really need an argument at all. That thinking comes from the more cynical wing of the party that says with Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, no one's expecting Republicans to provide a sweeping plan. Now, Ryan has given Democrats something to demagogue against in stump speeches.
“Didn’t they learn their lesson?” a senior GOP strategist told The Post. “House Republicans are still under the mistaken impression they have to lead. It’s a presidential election year; they’re along for the ride.”
One place Republicans could look for cover is Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who penned a column in The Huffington Post yesterday titled "Why I've Been Working with Paul Ryan." In it, Wyden argues that he wants to preserve Medicare by reforming it. The plan, which Ryan unveiled today, transforms Medicare from a "fee for service" framework that exists now to a voucher system in which the government subsidizes the purchased health insurance. Regardless, a senior Democratic aide tells Politico that "no Democrats" in the House are expected to support the bill when it goes to the floor next week.