Now that House Republicans have voted almost unanimously for the Paul Ryan budget — committing themselves irrevocably to the radical fiscal agenda that voters rejected last year — the battle is underway over how it will be defined, or redefined, in the public mind. Republicans insist they have hit on a new way to talk about the Ryan plan that will prove a winner in 2014.
Here’s a preview of what the GOP messaging will look like. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a group with ties to John Boehner, is running new ads slamming two House Dems (Joe Garcia of Florida and Sean Maloney of New York) for voting against the Ryan budget. It features a mom worried about family finances, and says:
Families make tough decisions to balance their budget. Why can’t Washington? Congressman Joe Garcia just voted against balancing Washington’s budget. Garcia backs policies to put America more in debt.
Putting aside the absurdity of comparing family and government budgets, the ads send a revealing signal, telegraphing the Republican strategy for converting the Ryan vision from a negative into a positive. Rather than try to repackage the Ryan plan’s voucherizing of Medicare — which is deeply unpopular — as a positive, Republicans will instead draw a contrast with Dems by focusing solely on its goal of balancing the budget. Ryan himself has signaled this, claiming that his plan “clarifies the divide between us.” Ryan sums up the difference this way: “We want to balance the budget. They don’t. We want to restrain spending. They want to spend more.”
This may sound like a fearsome message — and perhaps it will prove a winner in some districts — but the really important thing about it is what it tells us about the current GOP predicament. Remember, it’s already been reported that this strategy is explicitly designed to avoid talking about the specifics of the GOP fiscal vision. It’s an acknowledgment that the plan’s deep spending cuts and restructuring of retirement programs (combined with huge tax rate cuts for the rich) are unpopular — hence the need to rebrand it as about balancing the budget in general, which polls well.
In truth, though, one reason the GOP is tied to the Ryan vision is because the base won’t have it any other way. In a revealing moment, GOP pollster Whit Ayres told National Journal that the Ryan budget’s promise of balancing the budget polls well with the GOP base as an economic and moral issue. By continuing to feed the idea that balancing the budget is akin to a moral crusade, the new GOP messaging will probably only reinforce this dynamic.
But the public already has rejected the priorities and governing vision at the heart of the Ryan blueprint, and generally agrees with Democrats on basic questions about the size and role of the welfare state — and the need for higher taxes to pay for it and solve the country’s fiscal problems. Republicans have decided they don’t need to address this as part of their grand makeover — even as they admit they need to do a better job ditching their image as the party of the rich. Their big gamble is that they can deal with this problem by speaking only to the public’s desire for spending cuts in the abstract. But that puts them back in the position of being the austerity-only party, which even some Republicans admit won’t be enough going forward.
(Update: I’ve swapped in some links to some polls demonstrating the point.)
* Obamacare narrative of the day: With Obamacare celebrating its third birthday, it appears we’re in for a fresh round of stories about how confident Republicans are that the health law will be a major albatross for vulnerable Democrats in 2014. If memory serves, pundits confidently predicted that Democrats would “run away” from the law in 2012 and that it would be a major political loser for them. Didn’t exactly happen that way.
* Senate Dems grapple with GOP opposition to new revenues: Senate Democrats are divided over whether to press forward with their own version of tax reform, because (unsurprisingly) Senator Max Baucus is reluctant to move without bipartisan support for generating new revenues. Some Dems want to simply move forward and draft their own plan, but Baucus is insisting that an agreement be reached with Republicans on whether we should bring in new revenues for deficit reduction. But they aren’t ever going to agree to this, now are they…
* Truly overwhelming support for expanded background checks: Quinnipiac is circulating results of its recent state and national polling, and the findings are striking: In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, over 90 percent support universal background checks. In all four states, roughly 90 percent or more of gun owners supports them. Nationally, 88 percent back them. Will a single GOP Senator (aside from Mark Kirk, who has an “F” from the NRA) step forward and support something that has genuinely universal public support?
* It’s all about background checks: Chris Cillizza gets this right: By insisting yesterday that any final bill include expanded background checks, Harry Reid has essentially signaled that this is a line in the sand for Dems, and that success or failure can be defined by whether this passes. Of course, expanded background checks have always been the centerpiece of Obama’s proposal, despite the best efforts of some to pretend that the assault ban is the main prize, when it just isn’t.
* Immigration reform is not a sure thing: A good point from the Post editorial board: While GOP leaders clearly want immigration reform with a path to citizenship, it is also becoming clear that this will require conservative House rank-and-filers to cross an “ideological Rubicon” that they really may not be willing to cross in the end. The RNC autopsy’s call for immigration reform — and other such introspection — have lulled everyone into a false sense that immigration reform is a sure thing.
One possible endgame: A deal is reached in the Senate (where a few Republicans do support a path to citizenship), and the House GOP leadership allows a vote on the compromise, which then passes — despite conservative opposition — with a lot of Dem support. But that would be an ugly outcome for GOP leaders…
* Debunked GOP talking point of the day: Steven Dennis takes apart the GOP claim that the deficit is increasing by $4.8 billion a day. I still wonder how that GOP makeover will be possible as long as officials continue feeding delusions to the base on a regular basis.
* Right wing ramps up its campaign against Thomas Perez: Adam Serwer has a deep dive into the housing discrimination case that conservatives hope will derail Obama’s pick for labor secretary. The larger question is whether the campaign against Perez will stray into racially charged attacks that won’t exactly do wonders for the party’s Latino outreach.
* It’s the private sector, stupid: Harold Meyerson has an interesting column pushing back on conservative criticism of the progressive budget, which holds that today’s liberals have moved way, way, way to the left in calling for more government spending to fix the economy. As Meyerson notes, this is a response to economic reality:
It’s not that liberals have been prompted to move leftward through the readings of ancient socialist gospels or by smoking some stash left over from the ’60s. It’s that the economy has reached a dismal stability far short of its full employment potential or renewing the promise of widespread prosperity, and government investment is required to make up the difference. If anyone is smoking something, it is conservatives who foresee a rebirth of prosperity if only the private sector is left alone.
Oh, by the way: Seven in 10 Americans agree with this crazy leftwing notion that the federal government needs to spend more to create jobs.
* And the coinage of the day: A good one from Paul Krugman: “Stimulus Derangement Syndrome.”