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Posted at 11:27 AM ET, 03/21/2012

The strange case of the House budget

Why are House Republicans introducing a budget resolution, anyway?

As Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake reported yesterday, Republican operatives believe that severe spending cuts (especially on various health-care proposals) found in the new Paul Ryan budget will hurt Republicans at the polls (see also Steve Benen, who thinks that even some Republican House members won’t want to vote for it).

The odd thing about this is that Stan Collender is right: This is a re-election document, not a real budget. As was, as Collender reminds us, Barack Obama’s budget. And yet: While the White House has little choice but to put out a yearly budget, the same is not true of the House majority during this period of divided government. After all, Senate Democrats are, once again, planning to duck that particular responsibility. So the puzzle is: Why do you put out a campaign document that doesn’t appear to help you in the campaign? I don’t know, but I can speculate about some possibilities:

1. House Republicans are so invested in their talking point about how Democrats are irresponsible because they didn’t pass budget resolutions that they would be in serious trouble with their voters if they didn’t pass one. This seems unlikely to me; my guess is that had they ignored the budget process, few voters would have noticed.

2. House Republicans believe their own rhetoric about how passing budget resolutions is the most important thing for fiscal responsibility (and not, say, actually budgeting with real numbers). Possible!

3. House Republicans don’t care about possible damage in the general election (to themselves or their presidential candidate); they are fixated on renomination and terrified that they’ll be punished if they don’t produce votes consistent with Tea Party views. Maybe. There’s a nice way to check on this one: See how those members whose congressional primaries have already passed (Ohio and Illinois, so far) vote on the budget.

4. This is basically just a Paul Ryan ego thing, and they’ve built him up to the point that they can’t safely undercut him now. Possible! But no idea whether it’s true or not. If it is true, expect to hear some whispers in the Republican partisan press targeting him. I haven’t seen anything so far.

5. House Republicans believe that slashing Medicare and Medicaid, and instituting corporate tax cuts and more tax cuts for the wealthy under the cover of tax reform are all wildly popular positions, despite what any objective evidence shows. Maybe. I’d have made this one more likely but for the reporting from Cillizza and Blake, which indicated that at least some GOP operatives are firmly planted outside the conservative feedback loop. Perhaps, however, many House members are not.

So which is it? One or more of those? Something else? I don’t know. It is strange to see a party damage itself for no good reason. It would be one thing if substantive policy was at stake; plenty of Democrats right now strongly believe that the Affordable Care Act cost them the House but that passing the legislation at the cost of a landslide was the right choice. For Republicans to do this for a document that will never see the light of day in the Senate? Just bizarre.

By  |  11:27 AM ET, 03/21/2012

 
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