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Why Dems Should Taunt the GOP for Lacking Ideas

This post was originally published on the Washington Monthly. When congressional Democrats taunt their Republican colleagues about lacking ideas, substance heft, and specific policy proposals, Dems know they'll have an advantage either way. Either the GOP will produce nothing (in which case Republicans are the "party of no" with no new ideas), or they'll produce an actual plan (in which case Dems can point out how deeply crazy Republican proposals really are). Take this week, for example. President Obama unveiled the administration's budget, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, released a budget blueprint of his own. The Republican's budget plan is, as we talked about the other day, more than a little radical.
First, it calls for big cuts in Social Security benefits for everyone currently under 55 years of age. On top of the cuts it also calls for privatizing Social Security. Basically the exact plan President Bush tried in 2005. Next, it calls for the full privatization and phasing out of Medicare. It'll be replaced by a system of vouchers in which instead of getting Medicare you get a voucher to buy un-reformed private insurance [with benefits that fail to keep up with growing health care costs]. Weirdly, with all that, the draft GOP budget doesn't get the federal budget into surplus until 2083, which seems like a pretty long time. But isn't this sort of a big deal? House Republicans are poised to run in 2010 on slashing or abolishing the two most popular federal government programs -- Social Security and Medicare.
Josh Marshall added that he doesn't know "why Democrats aren't making a bigger deal out of" this. We can probably all think of plenty of times when Dems pursued dubious election-year strategies, but this really is manna from heaven for a party that's been on the defensive for quite a long while. How can you tell? The House Republican leadership doesn't know how to deal with their own budget guy's plan. This is deeply entertaining.
House Republicans are at pains to point out that a far-reaching budget roadmap unveiled by their top budget guy, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), isn't their budget, but when asked today at a press conference what about Ryan's budget he disagreed with, Minority Leader John Boehner couldn't name anything. "Off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you," Boehner said. Despite the apparent lack of substantive disagreement, though, Boehner wants to keep the Ryan plan from sticking to the GOP. "Paul Ryan, who's the ranking member on our budget committee, has done an awful lot of work in putting together his roadmap," Boehner said. "But it's his. And I know the Democrats are trying to say that it's the Republican leadership. But they know that's not the case."
This isn't going to work. For one thing, Ryan has said the Republican leadership has been supportive of his plan. For another, Boehner can't very well distance himself from a budget blueprint and then say he can't think of any parts he disagrees with. But perhaps most importantly, Boehner and the GOP leadership made Paul Ryan their go-to guy on the budget. Unless they plan to replace Ryan as the ranking member on the Budget Committee, it's a little late to throw him under the bus. As for Dems taking a swing at this slow, hanging curve, I received a press release this morning, talking about a media call being held this afternoon by House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-Conn.), House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), and two members of the House Budget Committee, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.). The purpose of the call was to discuss "Republican plans to privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare." Expect to hear more about this. The alternative is political malpractice.