Reports about Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, expected to be approved Wednesday by the House Budget Committee, suggest that it will be a cornerstone of the Republicans’ plan to expand their majority in the House and to win back the Senate. The Ryan budget has no immediate chance of being enacted; neither did President Obama’s. So let’s review it on the political merits.
The headline: Republicans will balance the budget and restore economic growth by cutting spending. The same exact headline, in other words, that could have been written 34 years ago or 20 years ago, the last two times Republicans rode to majorities. It may not be a new message, but Republicans figure it doesn’t need to be; they may have concluded that all they have to do to win is turn out their base. This document serves that purpose reasonably well, with the usual mix of eliminating funding for such Republican betes noires as NPR and research into climate change. It achieves most of its “savings,” in addition to cutting Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, by eliminating the new health-care law. Ryan’s mixture of new and old raw meat, and his sprinkling of magic dust claiming these cuts will grow the economy, are just what the faithful ordered. In fact, it is Reaganomics 2014, even down to its prescription to grow the defense budget.
Here’s what I wonder about the Ryan budget and would trouble me if I were a Republican strategist: Will it be a turnout tool for Democrats? Unlike Reagan, who just gave us the broad strokes (cut spending, taxes, raise defense), Ryan has delivered something much closer to a line-item budget, 98 pages of political affronts to the Democratic base. Perhaps Democrats were feeling a bit peaked six years into Obama’s term and would have followed the usual midterm pattern of voting less than in presidential years. The Ryan budget, however, has given them many new reasons to vote.