The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dems broaden attack on Paul Ryan budget

Placeholder while article actions load

The Paul Ryan budget just passed the House of Representatives, with many House Republicans who are running for Senate this cycle voting Aye. Dems have, of course, already signaled plans to make the Ryan budget central to their efforts to draw an economic contrast with Republicans in the 2014 elections.

But here’s something to look out for: Dems will increasingly use the Ryan blueprint to sharpen the contrast in particular on the two parties’ economic agendas for women.

The push on pay equity and the minimum wage have been all about making the case that Dems are offering concrete policies to help women economically, and Republicans aren’t. The Ryan budget will now be added to this argument — to make the case that the GOP economic agenda will disproportionately set women back.

In a statement released just now, the DSCC signaled that this argument will be central in multiple Senate races:

“Republican Senate candidates across the country are standing by Charles and David Koch and their reckless agenda that hurts women and their families while benefitting billionaires like the Kochs. By supporting the GOP’s reckless ‘Koch Budget,’ GOP Senate candidates are jeopardizing economic security and health care rights for women while providing tax giveaways for millionaires. Republican Senate candidates are sending a message loud and clear to women of their states that: if elected to the Senate, they will put special interests like Koch brothers first, not women and middle class families.”

Dems will be emphasizing the impact the Ryan budget would have on women in particular. The Ryan budget would repeal Obamacare’s protections for women. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 69 percent of Ryan’s cuts would fall on programs for people of modest means, and his budget would impose cuts on school lunch and child nutrition programs. Dana Milbank, quoting the National Women’s Law Center, has pointed out that many of the programs falling under Ryan’s axe would disproportionately benefit women:

For example, Medicaid (about 70 percent of adult recipients are women), food stamps (63 percent of adult recipients are women) and Pell grants (62 percent) would be cut. Then there are programs in categories that would face cuts Ryan hasn’t specified: Supplemental Security Income (two-thirds of the poor and elderly recipients are women), welfare (85 percent of adult recipients are women), housing vouchers (82 percent of recipient households headed by women), child-care assistance (75 percent female-headed households) and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. By contrast, government payments that go disproportionately to men — active-duty military and veterans — are relatively untouched.

The Ryan budget is the GOP’s lodestar, its statement of purpose, its chief blueprint for the economy and for government’s role — or lack of it — in combatting poverty and inequality and boosting mobility. The Tea Party economic worldview at its core, broadly speaking, is animated by the idea that one of the primary problems in American life is that there is too much government-engineered downward distribution of wealth — that this traps people in dependency, saps people’s will to climb the economic ladder, and shackles the job creators and the free market from unleashing broadly shared prosperity.

Dems are gambling that women will be particularly alienated by this economic worldview, if it can be convincingly tattooed to GOP candidates. Polling on government and its proper role in the economy is often contradictory and inconclusive. But a recent CNN poll found that 70 percent of women agree that government should work to substantially reduce the gap between rich and poor, and 74 percent of women think GOP policies favor the rich — both somewhat higher than among the public at large.

More broadly, the Democratic push on a women’s economic agenda is driven by the idea that packaging a slate of economic policies (the minimum wage hike; pay equity; health care protections for women) makes for a particularly potent message to downscale and unmarried women, who will be key constituencies in hard fought Senate races this fall. Adding the Ryan budget to the mix, it is hoped, will help broaden the conversation beyond Obamacare and sharpen the contrast around the idea that Dems favor robust government action to help women economically, while Republicans would roll back economic and health care protections and the safety net — also an argument aimed squarely at those groups.