Could the Ryan budget spell serious trouble for...Paul Ryan?

House Republicans have given an extraordinary amount of leeway to House Budget Chair Paul Ryan so far during the 112th Congress. To begin with, they rewrote House rules to give Ryan additional authority. And then they adopted his budget only a week after it was unveiled, with very little scrutiny.

They have since been taking grief in their districts for the Medicare cuts in that budget.

How many House Republicans really understood what they were voting on? How many of them realized that the budget they supported contained the exact same Medicare Advantage cuts they campaigned against in 2010? How many realized that, however they tried to spin it, the long-term plan for Medicare would inevitably wind up being called “ending Medicare” by not only the Democrats, but by advocates for the elderly? How many realized that an accusation of “cutting Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the rich” was coming? How many even realized that they were passing a budget that contained new tax cuts for the rich?

For that matter, how many knew that the budget gives up on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” on the Affordable Care Act?

Generally, Congress observers — myself included — have been focused on the difficulties facing Speaker Boehner as he tries to walk a line between the ideological demands of his conference and the realities of divided government. I’ve long said that I thought it would take very careful maneuverings for him to last long as Speaker, and so far I think he’s done an excellent job. But I think that emphasis has overlooked another factor: For all their bravado House Republicans are still politicians who care about the median voter (in general elections!) and don’t want to be ambushed at Town Hall meetings.

House GOPers — and the Speaker — seem to have trusted Ryan to deliver a budget that could satisfy their ideological primary electorates without risking re-election in November. And it seems clear that the Ryan budget — that is, the House Republican budget — fails as a general election platform. In fact, it is largely an unforced error, since as far as I’m aware there was no particular pressure from any GOP constituency groups to destroy Medicare-as-we-know-it.

It’s possible that House Republicans are firmly committed to ideological battle, and will see every prediction of political doom from Ryan’s budget as simply liberal spin that their real constituents won’t care about. But it’s also possible they will feel increasingly ambushed by the budget vote. And they (and the Speaker) may prove a lot less willing to trust Paul Ryan in the future.