In the movie Groundhog Day, the character played by Bill Murray leaves his hotel and steps off a curb, only to plunge his foot deep into an icy puddle. The Murray character does this a couple of times, grows annoyed with himself, and then, on the next rerun of the morning, finally remembers the location of the puddle and steps around it.
Today, in releasing his new budget, Ryan will, in political terms, step into the icy puddle a third time.
The question is whether the rest of the script will unfold in the same way it did the last two times. Will Beltway commentators and self-styled deficit hawks broadly grant Ryan the presumption of Seriousness (with a capital “S”) about the deficit that was inexplicably lavished on his two previous efforts? Or will they pretend he didn’t step in the puddle again?
The Ryan budget rollout is best described by the Wall Street Journal, which pointedly notes that he will “introduce a proposal to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid that is almost identical to the Republican presidential platform in 2012.” The plan hits many of the usual high points: It voucherizes Medicare (with the option of remaining in the program) and block grants Medicaid. As the Journal describes it: “The moves would save hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years, while potentially raising costs for Medicare beneficiaries and sharply cutting the number of Medicaid recipients.” The Ryan plan also repeals Obamacare, while partly balancing the budget with Obamacare savings.
We need to see the details of Ryan’s plan, but the last two efforts were picked apart for being full of holes and magic astericks. This year’s model purports to wipe out the deficit in 10 years — an even heavier budgetary lift than in previous years. So will commentators and deficit hawks politely ignore it if the new version is also full of holes?
Mike Tomasky is pessimistic. He writes: “something tells me that when the plan is released in full, the `serious’ people will applaud the effort and will implore the president to mimic Ryan’s alleged sincerity about deficit reduction.” I dunno. I like to think things have changed. As Jonathan Chait detailed last fall, the high profile accorded him as his party’s Veep candidate, combined with aggressive press scrutiny of his role in killing bipartisan budget deals and of the GOP campaign’s unspecific and mathematically-challenged proposals, did real damage to the Legend of Ryan’s Fiscal Seriousness. Then there’s the fact that this year’s budget includes the $700 billion in Obamacare Medicare cuts that Ryan and Romney campaigned against so visibly last fall — in a presidential election, which drew far more attention than Congressional races which also centered on those cuts. As First Read notes, Ryan even attacked these cuts in his convention speech.
More broadly, there’s the glaring fact that Ryan and Mitt Romney just lost an election fought around all of these fiscal questions. The unrepentant reprisal of the same fiscal vision that was decisively repudiated last fall is bound to attract notice and penetrate the narrative (see the Journal’s pointed language above as Exhibit A).
Perhaps folks will once again politely look the other way as Ryan steps in the icy puddle again. But things just may be different this time.
* The Paul Ryan rollout begins: Ryan unveils his proposal in a Journal op ed piece. A telling line:
Yet the most important question isn’t how we balance the budget. It’s why.
How we do this isn’t the most important question? Didn’t we just have a whole election about how we should do this?
* The real goal of the Ryan budget: Eugene Robinson spells it out:
Ryan cares less about deficits or tax rates than about finding some way to dramatically reduce the size of the federal government. He has every right to hold that view. But it’s hard to take him seriously as long as he refuses to come clean about his intentions.
* Broad support for Obama’s gun proposals: A new Post poll finds that 91 percent of Americans, including 87 percent of Republicans, support expanded background checks; 82 percent support cracking down on gun trafficking; and 57 percent back banning assault weapons. At the same time, however, the poll also finds the public roughly split on who to trust on gun issues, with 42 percent picking Obama, and 41 percent choosing Congressional Republicans — who broadly oppose all of the above policies.
The disconnect suggests Republicans and the “gun rights” brigade have done yeoman’s work in misleading the public about what Dems have actually proposed and about the true nature of the differences between both sides on these questions.
* Broad consensus behind background checks: Steve Benen puts the Post numbers in a useful chart. Wanted: A handful of Republican Senators who are willing to support an eminently sensible policy that’s supported by more than eight in 10 voters from their own policy.
* Dems plan to hammer Ryan budget in 2014: Democrats are outlining plans to use the Ryan budget to bludgeon GOP Senate candidates in next year’s elections, reprising the strategy they used in 2012. As Dem pollster Geoff Garin explains in the link, this is about more than the Ryan budget; his plan is the embodiment of the GOP fiscal vision writ large — one that was soundly rejected by voters last November.
Garin: “The basic underlying philosophical premise of the Ryan budget is rejected by a voters in a way that shows up in this larger indictment of Republican policies in general.”
* New video targets Ryan plan: Relatedly, the House Majority PAC — the outside group which spends to elect Dems to the House — has released a new Web video hitting Ryan for doubling down on his plan to end Medicare as we know it. It is often argued that the fact that the GOP held the House shows the Ryan Medicare plan isn’t toxic. But Dems gained seats in both houses in an election that was largely about health care — given the GOP focus on Obamacare — even as polls showed that solid national majorities disapproved of Ryan’s vision.
* Obama’s pick for labor secretary is a solid progressive: Adam Serwer has a good piece explaining why Thomas Perez, Obama’s likely nominee for labor secretary, may prove one of the most effective progressives in the President’s cabinet. As the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Perez did the following:
Since Perez took the helm, the division has blocked partisan voting schemes, cracked down on police brutality, protected gay and lesbian students from harassment, sued anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profiling, stood up against Islamophobia, and forced the two largest fair-housing settlements in history from banks that discriminated against minority homeowners.
As Serwer notes, progressives and Republicans alike will see Perez as someone worth fighting over, which ensures another major confirmation battle.
* And the limits of Obama’s “schmoozing”: Some telling reporting from Jackie Calmes:
For all the attention to President Obama’s new campaign of outreach to Republicans, it was four months ago — on the eve of bipartisan budget talks — that he secretly invited five of them to the White House for a movie screening with the stars of “Lincoln,” the film about that president’s courtship of Congress to pass a significant measure. None accepted.
I find it plausible that Obama is not good at schmoozing. But the question the critics refuse to answer is this: Why would more outreach do anything to win over a party whose explicitly, publicly stated position is that no compromise of any kind is preferable to the sequester?