By Perry Bacon Jr.
Friday, February 5, 2010; 11:21 AM
Congressional Democrats are hammering a controversial budget proposal recently put out by a bloc of Republicans, looking to put the GOP on the defensive about its own ideas and blunt momentum the Republicans have gained from attacking Democratic policies.
"Anybody who wants to see the difference between Democrats and Republicans needs only to look at their budget," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a speech Friday morning at a meeting for the Democratic National Committee. "The Republican budget provides tax breaks for the wealthy, ends Medicare as we know it and privatizes Social Security. Here they go again, rehashing the same failed Bush policies."
The Pelosi speech was the latest attack by Democrats on a proposal released last week by a half-dozen House Republicans to reduce the long-term deficit. The bill, which is not a formal budget proposal, would cut the tax rate on corporations, shift future Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to private insurance plans, and both raise the retirement age gradually to 70 and reduce the growth of benefits to make Social Security solvent.
The dispute over the legislation illustrates both the complicated task of getting the two parties to work together and the risk Republicans could have in offering their own proposals instead of focusing on those of the Democrats.
In the midst of the Democratic attacks on the plan on Thursday, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) distanced himself from the legislation by saying "it's his," referring to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the principal author of the legislation. Boehner emphasized the document did not have the backing of all House Republicans. At the same time, only a week ago, President Obama had praised Ryan as a "pretty sincere guy" and seemed to suggest Ryan's idea shouldn't be demagogued as "trying to hurt our senior citizens."
Democrats have acknowledged Ryan's plan, released last week, is one of the few offered by a member of either party that would lower the long-term budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put out a report last month on the Ryan proposal that showed it moves the country toward a balanced budget, while maintaining current law would bring massive increases in the deficit.
But the proposal includes provisions that Democrats have long opposed, such as allowing people to invest money they would pay in payroll taxes for Social Security into personal accounts and keeping tax cuts in place for people who earn more than $250,000 a year.
"House Republicans are again trying to turn back the clock to the failed policies of President [George W.] Bush," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Pa.) said the Republican plan would "end Medicare as we know it."
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, responded that "we have a plan, they have nothing," referring to Democrats. Ryan called the Obama's administration support for a fiscal commission, instead of offering a formal plan as Ryan and the his colleagues did, as "not leadership," but "punting."
Ryan, 40, who was first elected to Congress in 1998, is part of a bloc of the House's most conservative members who want to offer a sharp contrast in this year's midterm elections instead of just attacking Democrats. He says it's important for Republicans to become the "alternative party."
"We need to be proactive, and we need to put big ideas out there," he said. "You run the risk of criticism, but I feel morally obligated to do that."
Although Boehner did not back Ryan's legislation, he declined to specify anything in the legislation that he disagrees with. And in his role as the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, Ryan wrote the House GOP budget plan last year that Boehner and other party leaders signed off on, and that included many provisions similar to those in the Ryan's current proposal, such as the tax cuts and changes to Medicare.
Ryan says offering an agenda that Democrats can link to Bush is not a problem, because he views the GOP defeats in 2006 and 2008 as caused by the Iraq war, increases in government spending by the GOP that irritated its base and congressional scandals, not a repudiation of conservative economic policies. But he acknowledges some his ideas could limit reaching compromises with Democrats.
"They are more interested in moving us toward what I would call a European-style welfare state," Ryan said of Democrats. "The principles that I use they would disagree with. And that's why it's difficult to see our worlds coming together."