wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Paul Ryan’s budget is bad politics. Just ask Republicans.

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/20/2012

To much fanfare, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan will unveil his 2012 budget plan in Washington today.


In this Feb. 16, 2012, file photo House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds up a copy of President Barack Obama's fiscal 2013 federal budget during the budget committee's hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
The debut of the House Budget Committee chairman’s vision for what conservative governance could and should look like might win him kudos from the conservative policy class, but it elicits only groans from GOP political professionals.

“As a campaign issue, the budget is a significant challenge for GOP candidates,” said Bob Honold, a GOP strategist and partner at Revolution Agency. “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.”

Another senior GOP strategist was far more blunt. “Didn’t they learn their lesson?” the source asked. “House Republicans are still under the mistaken impression they have to lead. It’s a presidential election year; they’re along for the ride.”

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) sought to paint the Ryan budget in the best possible political light during a briefing with reporters on Monday.

“I believe that we will get credit for effectively, first of all, having a budget, which the Democrats failed to do,” said Sessions. “I think the public will give us credit for having answers, and I think they’ll give us credit for being credible about the plight that we’re in.”

Maybe. But, the concern within Republican campaign ranks is that Ryan’s budget plays out much like it did when he put out his “Path to Prosperity” last year.

In that budget document, Ryan called for Medicare to be transformed into a voucher program — a proposal that Democrats immediately seized on and used to great effect in a surprising special election victory in upstate New York.

For their part, Republican presidential candidates did everything they could to pretend that the Ryan budget didn’t exist — expressing general praise for the idea of a conservative alternative to the Obama budget but avoiding any support for specific proposals. (The one exception was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who offered his unequivocal support for the Ryan plan. And we saw how far that carried him.)

The debate over the politics of Ryan’s latest budget plan speak to a broader divide within the Republican Party.

Ryan as well as his fellow members of the House Republican leadership believe that, as the majority party (in the House, at least), it is incumbent upon them to produce a blueprint for how they would govern the country.

The other, more pragmatic (or cynical, depending on where you stand) wing of the party — the vast majority of political professionals are in this group — believes that there is no expectation on the part of the American people that Republicans provide any sweeping vision of what they would do if they are in power. By offering one, all Ryan is doing is giving Democrats something to shoot at, politically speaking. And that takes away from GOP attempts to keep the 2012 election spotlight shining brightly on President Obama.

What both sides in this Republican argument can agree on is that Democrats are likely to go at the new Ryan plan hard, and that if the party handles it as poorly as it did last year, it could be in serious trouble.

“The verdict depends on if Republicans can quickly define this plan among seniors before the Democrats define it for them,” said Ron Bonjean, a longtime Senate aide and now a Republican strategist. “Republicans had a turbulent practice run last year, so they should be well-prepared for the onslaught of negative attacks the other side will likely unleash.”

Santorum gets creative on delegate math: Rick Santorum doesn’t trail Mitt Romney by more than 250 delegates. In fact, he trails him by about half that.

That’s according to Santorum’s campaign, which offered its version of the delegate race Monday to ABC News.

Under Santorum’s math, his campaign assumes that the Republican National Committee will force Arizona and Florida to award their delegates proportionally, rather than on a winner-take-all basis to Romney. (Some in the RNC have argued for this, saying that the states broke the rules by holding their primaries early, but the committee says it can’t punish them for it, since it has already halved their delegates for going early.)

Santorum’s campaign also argues that it will garner many more delegates in caucus states — Iowa, Missouri and Washington state, in particular — than projections indicate.

The most recent AP projections from our delegate tracker show Romney up 521 to 253 on Santorum, but Santorum’s campaign argues that it’s really closer to 435 to 311.

Of course, that’s probably a best-case scenario for Santorum.

New York map set: A three-judge panel in New York finalized the state’s new congressional map on Monday, adopting a court-drawn plan after the state legislature failed to come to an agreement in time for this year’s election.

Under the new map, districts held by Reps. Bob Turner (R) and Maurice Hinchey (D) get eliminated. Hinchey is retiring, while Turner announced he will run for Senate after the proposed map was released last week.

Democrats noted late Monday that the new map includes just two of 27 districts that gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) more than 50 percent of the vote in 2008. But many of the remaining districts will be politically competitive for years to come.

Eight other districts went between 45 percent and 50 percent for McCain, and Republicans this week landed a strong candidate for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who has a much tougher new district that went 40 percent for McCain.

For more on the new map, stay tuned to The Fix today.

Fixbits:

Romney attacks Santorum for saying that the unemployment rate doesn’t matter to his campaign. But while Romney suggests Santorum doesn’t care about the unemployed, the context of Santorum’s remarks makes clear he was talking about how his campaign isn’t solely based on the economy and he can talk about other issues.

Fun fact: Former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer may have beaten Newt Gingrich in Puerto Rico’s primary.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) lifts a Santorum joke from Conan O’Brien.

Scott Keadle lands the endorsement of the conservative Club for Growth in the race to face Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.).

Former New York attorney general Dennis Vacco (R) won’t challenge Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.).

Former congressional candidate Vernon Parker (R) will run for Arizona’s new open 9th district seat.

New York state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D) could become the state’s first-ever Asian-American member of Congress. She may run for retiring Rep. Gary Ackerman’s (D) seat, which is now about 40 percent Asian-American.

Former congressman Mark Neumann (R-Wis.) brings a pig to his Senate campaign.

Must-reads:

Romney, Santorum each claim conservative mantle before Illinois primary” — Philip Rucker and Dan Balz, Washington Post

Romney bundlers are key to his presidential campaign” — Dan Eggen, Washington Post

Rick Santorum has embraced Spanish priest behind devout Catholic group Opus Dei” — Stephanie McCrummen and Jerry Markon, Washington Post

More from PostPolitics :

GOP budget plan released; cuts deeply into domestic programs

Federal agencies to open investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death

Women take Rick Perry to task on Facebook

 
Read what others are saying