Wonkbook: Why did Senate Republicans vote for Ryan's plan?

at 07:49 AM ET, 05/26/2011


(Chip Somodevilla - GETTY IMAGES)
The big story isn't that Ryan's budget failed in the Senate. It's that it only lost the votes of five Republican senators. That's a remarkable show of party unity on behalf of a budget that can't pass, is deeply unpopular, and is largely blamed for the GOP's defeat in New York's 26th district. That's a lot more political information than House Republicans had when they passed the budget. But it didn't change the Senate vote at all.

Perhaps Senate Republicans really, truly believe in Ryan's framework. But since it's not passing, and about 40 of the Republicans who voted for the budget expressed interest in modifying it or finding an alternative, it seems difficult to hang this one entirely on conviction. More likely is that most Senate Republicans are, for the moment, more afraid of their base than of their voters. The general electorate might not like Ryan's budget, but Republican primary voters -- or at least the organizations that are assumed to represent Republican primary voters -- love it. Grover Norquist is trying to train 150,000 activists to make the pitch for the plan. “The challenge will be to teach each of our activists to deliver the Ryan speech," he said. American for Prosperity, the group most associated with the Tea Party successes in the 2010 cycle, whipped yesterday's Senate vote. And remember what happened to poor Newt Gingrich?

For Democrats, of course, this is perhaps the best of all possible worlds. The Ryan plan won't pass, so they don't need to worry about it actually becoming law, but almost every Republican incumbent Republican has voted for it, making it a legitimate campaign issue in races all across the country. For elected Republicans, conversely, the upside is harder to discern: they're taking a huge political risk, but one with no chance of a policy payoff. But for them, the risk of not voting for the Ryan plan outweighed the risk of voting for the Ryan plan, which is testament to the tremendous and continuing power of the conservative base.

Five in the morning

1) Ryancare failed in the Senate, report Paul Kane, Amy Goldstein, and Peter Wallsten: "Senate Republicans on Wednesday stood by a GOP plan to transform Medicare, one day after the party lost a conservative House district in Upstate New York amid a strong effort by Democrats to make that proposal the central issue. The measure was defeated in the Democratic-run Senate on Wednesday. But the unity among Republicans -- with only five out of 47 voting against it -- served as an important sign that party leaders remain wedded to a deficit-reduction plan that is a loyalty test for many GOP voters but is widely unpopular, according to polls...Still, signs of unease about Ryan’s approach remain within the party...Even some of the 40 senators who voted for it openly discussed their interest in finding alternatives."

2) The GOP will offer a jobs plan today, report John McKinnon and Gerald Seib: "House Republicans will seek to reset the economic-policy debate Thursday, offering a broad plan to boost jobs and growth by easing tax and regulatory burdens. The plan includes a 25% top tax rate on corporations and individuals, compared with the current 35%, as well as higher domestic-energy production, new curbs on government regulations and overhauls of U.S. patent and visa systems to help entrepreneurs and high-tech firms. In addition, the plan calls for aligning the U.S. with other major economies that basically tax their multinational corporations only on domestic earnings. That proposal could offer a boost to supporters of legislation calling for a temporary tax holiday for U.S. multinationals."

3) French finance minister Christine Lagarde has launched her campaign to run the IMF, report Anthony Faiola and Steven Mufson: "Lagarde, 55, would be the first woman -- and first non-economist -- to run the male-dominated fund. Her appointment could help alter the institution’s culture after Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the previous managing director and presumptive Socialist Party presidential candidate, was forced to resign this month after being charged with sexual assault. In recent days, European leaders have coalesced behind Lagarde’s candidacy. Her supporters call her a formidable negotiator, a key to uniting a bickering Europe in the quest to save the euro and manage the debt crisis that has rocked the continent over the past 18 months."

4) Goodwin Liu has withdrawn his nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, reports Peter Landers: "University of California, Berkeley, law professor Goodwin Liu dropped his bid for the federal bench Wednesday, with a letter asking President Barack Obama to withdraw his nomination to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Mr. Liu, 40 years old and a former leader of the liberal American Constitution Society, became a flashpoint in the ideological battle over the federal judiciary's direction. Republicans filibustered the nomination, citing scholarly writings where Mr. Liu sharply criticized conservative Supreme Court rulings, as well as the professor's testimony against the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito. Democrats failed to break that filibuster last week, when the Senate voted 52-43 on a motion to bring Mr. Liu's nomination to a vote."

5) Liberal groups are pushing a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren, reports Ylan Mui: "Liberal groups rallied around Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday and renewed calls for her to lead the fledgling consumer watchdog agency, a day after she was accused of lying in a contentious congressional hearing. An online petition circulated by the Campaign for America’s Future asking the White House to appoint her while the Senate is in recess garnered 20,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. A similar effort from Progressive Change Campaign Committee signed up 10,000 people an hour in the first five hours, organizers said, and won support from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)... Warren has been Democrats’ top pick for the job, and she is credited with coming up with the idea for the agency several years ago."

Riot grrrl interlude: Sleater-Kinney plays "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" live at CBGB's.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come: House Republicans are reassuring Wall Street ahead of the sure-to-fail debt limit vote; a medical professor asks why Medicare is paying for procedures that don't work; Obama wants to spend more on early childhood education; new mileage stickers feature more info; and an X-wing soap box derby car.

Economy

House Ways and Means chair David Camp is reassuring Wall Street the debt limit will be raised, reports Ben White: "House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has been working the phones in conversations with top banking executives to explain the politics of next week’s planned debt limit vote in the House, sources tell POLITICO. The vote will be on a measure to raise the $14.29 trillion debt limit with no spending cuts. With the GOP majority and many Democrats opposing this 'clean vote' approach, it will fail. But Camp has made the case to Wall Street that the vote is just a political marker intended to make clear that significant cuts will be required to get an increase through by August, when emergency measure run out and markets could begin to take possible default more seriously."

Forget Paul Ryan, appropriations chair Hal Rogers is the real GOP hatchet man, writes Suzy Khimm: "Two weeks ago, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made the GOP's next big move to slash spending for social programs. In a little-noticed proposal, Rogers detailed how the GOP wants to inflict the pain of more than $1 trillion in unspecified discretionary spending cuts contained in Ryan's 2012 budget, which passed the House in April...Under his proposal, the poor and the working class will be hardest-hit. On Tuesday, Rogers kicked off the GOP's budget-cutting party in the House, deciding which programs should pay the price. Rogers has focused on capping labor, health, and education spending at $139 billion--$18 billion less than the 2011 budget and $41 billion below what President Obama proposed in his own 2012 budget."

The new IMF director will have to work with a new European Central Bank head, reports Neil Irwin: "Christine Lagarde’s possible move to Washington and the International Monetary Fund isn’t the only major change happening this year among the top officials responding to the European debt crisis. Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, is scheduled to step down when his term ends Oct. 31. Mario Draghi, head of Italy’s central bank, has emerged as the likely candidate to succeed him. Draghi will become a leading voice on the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal and the deepening debt problems in Spain, Italy and other European nations. He will face dramatic tensions in the new job. The biggest is the opposition of German and French politicians to bailing out less fiscally sound European nations, which could endanger the euro."

Think tank deficit plans highlight the philosophical differences behind the debate, writes David Wessel: "Contenders ranged from left (Economic Policy Institute, Roosevelt Campus Network) to right (American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation) with a couple in between (the Democrats' Center for American Progress and a Bipartisan Policy Center plan crafted by retired deficit warriors Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Alice Rivlin.)... The big takeaway is this: The debate over how to reduce the deficit is truly a philosophical one about the size of government. There's more than one route to fiscal nirvana. In the exercise, AEI and Heritage get there by cutting spending and cutting taxes--and cutting spending more. EPI, by contrast, gets there by spending more and taxing more--and increasing taxes more."

Christine Lagarde is the best candidate for the IMF, writes Annie Lowrey: "In the crass terms of identity politics, the IMF could hardly pick anyone better. Lagarde is a woman, of course. Moreover, she is a multilingual, teetotaling, vegetarian yoga enthusiast--an ascetic, in welcome contrast to the pathologically indulgent DSK. The main charges against her are two: First, she is a European. Second, she is not an economist...Neither of these charges matters much right now. Europe is home to the world's biggest economic basket cases--namely, the PIIGS, which are Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain. As France's finance minister, Lagarde has for years sat at the table, negotiating how and whether to bail out the countries, what austerity plans to endorse, and how to restructure their debts, if necessary."

Dork project interlude: An X-wing soap box derby car, complete with R2D2.

Health Care

Medicare should stop paying for procedures with no benefit, writes Rita Redberg: "The full extent of Medicare payments for procedures with no known benefit needs to be quantified. But the estimates are substantial. The chief actuary for Medicare estimates that 15 percent to 30 percent of health care expenditures are wasteful. Medicare spending exceeded $500 billion in 2010, suggesting that $75 billion to $150 billion could be cut without reducing needed services...[A] factor is the shocking chasm between Medicare coverage and clinical evidence. Our medical culture is such that if the choice is between doing a test and not doing one, it is considered better care to do the test. So while Medicare is obligated to follow the task force’s recommendations to cover new preventive services, it has no similar mandate to deny coverage for services for which the task force has found no benefit."

Paul Ryan has a point, writes Matt Miller: "In any other wealthy nation, a Ryan-sized voucher would more than suffice to ensure high-quality health care for seniors. In Singapore, it would be seen as offering an outrageous bonanza for the Medical Industrial Complex. If you’re with me so far, the Democratic case on Medicare (as well as the GOP’s case last election) is therefore caught between two claims that can’t both be true: (1) we spend much more on health care than anybody else without better results; and (2) if we cut the growth of this spending to below the rate of GDP growth, we’d have to curtail Americans’ access and quality of care. No matter how often and how loud the interest groups, politicians and other forces of the status quo scream the latter, it cannot be true if the former is a fact."

Paul Ryan is getting a taste of his own demagogic medicine, writes Dana Milbank: "Democrats and, particularly, liberal activists, are engaged in some shameless demagoguery (one group’s ad shows a Ryan look-alike pushing an old woman and her wheelchair off a cliff). And Ryan is well qualified to call out shameless demagoguery and scare tactics: Over the past two years, he has practiced both. Speaking on the House floor in 2009, he said the Democrats’ health-care legislation would 'take coverage away from seniors,' 'raise premiums for families' and 'cost us nearly 5.5 million jobs.' Later, he said the health plan would bring about government 'rationing' of health care. He also labeled the plan 'a government takeover of our healthcare system' claimed America was at a 'tipping point' toward a 'European social welfare state,' and gave a wink to the “death panel” allegations. His suggestion that the legislation would result in the IRS getting '16,000 agents' to police the health-care law was knocked down as 'wildly inaccurate' by Factcheck.org."

We have to find health cost savings within the system itself, writes Ezra Klein: "When you hear the words 'health-care costs,' it’s good to apply a quick mental auto-correct. What people really mean are 'sick-person costs.' When five percent of patients account for 50 percent of spending, you’re not talking about the costs that most Americans with health-care insurance rack up over the course of a year. You’re talking about the costs racked up by a tiny fraction who suffer from serious health conditions."

Domestic Policy

Obama wants to invest more in early learning programs, reports Michael Alison Chandler: "The Obama administration unveiled a competition Wednesday to spur reform among early-childhood programs and fuel spending at a time when many states are cutting funding for their youngest students. The next phase of Obama’s Race to the Top program will distribute $500 million among states that plan to expand access to early-learning programs for children from low-income families and establish clear academic goals and strong evaluation systems. 'Investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do,' Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a telephone news conference...Early-learning programs have been tied to lasting academic success, including higher high school and college graduation rates."

Senate Republicans want to block Obama from making recess appointments, reports Jonathan Allen: "Senate conservatives asked House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday to try to block President Obama from making recess appointments for the remainder of his presidency. In a letter, the group of 20 senators implored Boehner to refuse to adopt any resolution that would allow the Senate to stand in recess for more than three days. Under the Constitution, neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other chamber. The Constitution does not prescribe how many days the president must wait to make a recess appointment, but traditionally the chief executive refrains from making an appointment during a break of less than four days so that he avoids the perception that he wants to end-run the Senate confirmation process."

The administration's regulatory overhaul is continuing apace, writes Cass Sunstein: "Over the past four months, government agencies and departments have combed through their rules, listened carefully to the public, and developed plans to identify what works and what doesn't. The results of this review are in. Today, 30 agencies are laying out regulatory reforms that will save private-sector dollars and unlock economic growth by eliminating unjustified regulations, including what the president has called 'absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money.' We are taking immediate steps to save individuals, businesses, and state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars every year in regulatory burdens. The reforms have the potential to save billions of dollars more over time while maintaining critical health and safety protections for the American people."

History lesson interlude: A helpful infographic on how Scotland joined Great Britain.

Energy

New federally mandated mileage stickers will feature much more information, reports Ashley Halsey: "If that swanky new vehicle that has caught your fancy is a gas hog, you might want to avert your eyes starting next year, because a new federally mandated label is going to spell it out in big, bold letters. The first major revision in 30 years of gas-mileage labels on new vehicles will tell you just how much more -- or less -- you’ll pay for gas over the next five years if you sign on the dotted line and drive that baby home. In addition to comparing fuel costs with the overall average for new vehicles -- 'you save $1,850 in fuel costs over five years' -- the new labels will provide lots of other information and will use technology to allow car shoppers immediate access to even more data."

Sen. David Vitter is blocking a pay raise for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reports Ed O'Keefe: "It’s rare for Washington officials to decline a pay raise, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he doesn’t want one if it means meeting the demands of a former Senate colleague eager to expand offshore oil drilling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is attempting to restore the interior secretary’s pay to its original rate after a constitutional clause forced Congress to reduce it in 2009... Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), still smarting over Interior’s decision to scale back oil drilling after last year’s BP oil spill, said he would block Salazar’s raise until the secretary restores all previous drilling permits and approves new ones."

The White House is interested in a bipartisan electric car bill, reports Ben Geman: "White House energy adviser Heather Zichal said Wednesday that provisions to spur deployment of electric vehicles could form the foundation of bipartisan energy legislation that can gain traction on Capitol Hill. Zichal’s comments could boost bipartisan electric vehicle legislation that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are promoting. 'A lot of the bill has great ideas in it and we are hopeful that it could serve as the underpinning for a broader package that could move through Congress,' said Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Zichal, speaking at a forum hosted by National Journal, said measures on electric vehicles could be the 'base' of a targeted bill that also includes provisions on oil-and-gas production, building efficiency and green-energy R&D."

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.

 
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