Paul Ryan will not rest.
The House Budget Committee chairman will need plenty of energy as his 2012 budget resolution, passed on Friday in the House by a 235-193 vote, becomes the defining GOP document on the future of Medicare, Medicaid, and the tax code. Opposition Democrats will hang the Ryan budget around the necks of every GOP candidate from president down to dog catcher.
Senate Democrats, for example, wasted no time: “The Republican plan. The fact that it passed the House shows just how far to the right the tea party has dragged the Republican Party," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a statement issued after the House vote. “The Republican plan would also destroy nearly two million American jobs and undermine our economic growth. Republicans’ plan would only benefit the wealthiest Americans, who would get another round of tax breaks they don’t need and that our economy can’t afford."
White House press secretary Jay Carney followed suit with a statement that said while "the president agrees with House Republicans that we must reduce our deficit," he opposes a move that, he said, "ends Medicare as we know it and doubles health care costs for seniors in order to pay for more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."
Ryan, however, pitched his budget as a difficult and courageous choice, which Democrats are unwilling to make.
"This is the most predictable economic crisis we have ever had in our history of this country," Ryan said on the House floor. "And yet we have a president who is unwilling to lead; we have too many politicians worried about the next election and not worried about the next generation.”
Ryan knows he needs to worry a little bit about selling some of the more radical proposals in his plan, and in advance of the Friday vote, Ryan had spent weeks walking House Republicans through a power-point presentation on the nation’s debt situation and his policy remedy to that situation. He distilled some of those charts and graphs into a combative op-ed in Friday's Washington Post.
“No amount of taxes can keep pace with the amount of money government is projected to spend on health care in the coming years,” Ryan wrote. “Medicare and Medicaid are growing twice as fast as the economy—and taxes cannot rise that fast without a devastating impact on jobs and growth.”
Ryan’s visceral defense carries a jut-jawed certainty that springs from the Wisconsin Republican’s success in moving his plan through a gauntlet of GOP leadership skepticism. Essentially, Ryan’s plan has gone from hot-house theory to party orthodoxy.
It’s worth remembering that during the midterm campaign, House GOP leaders, then seeking the majority, would not commit to Ryan’s most audacious proposal—transforming Medicare from a fee-for-service health care delivery system to a needs-based voucher program 10 years hence. In early March, this public hesitancy continued as GOP leaders, now in the majority, declined to embrace Ryan’s Medicare gambit.
Ryan has denounced President Obama’s Wednesday speech reformulating his 2012 budget as excessively partisan and “rhetorically heated.” The objective truth is the Ryan budget is also partisan. It has no chance of passing the Democratically controlled Senate. It’s also true that Ryan’s budget will attract near-unanimous support from Republicans because they believe it will be in far more political jeopardy if they don’t back Ryan than if they do.
The proof can be found in the 59 House GOP “No” votes on Thursday for the fiscal 2011 bipartisan spending compromise that averted a government shutdown. With these two votes, House Republicans will virtually scream to the Obama White House that they are more unified in confronting the president than they are in crafting a compromise that keeps the government open and cuts spending
The next question for House Republicans and an acid test of their political tenacity will be when (and possibly even if) they follow Ryan’s blueprint, which does not carry the force of law, with legislation to enact its most controversial provisions. GOP leadership aides say there is no concrete plan on this front, but Ryan’s document won’t fall beyond the wayside.
“It is our governing blueprint, our plan for changing the trajectory of unsustainable government spending and taxing,” one top House GOP aide said. “We won't walk away from our basic principles.”
House Appropriations Committee staff have begun looking how to put Ryan's topline discretionary number into the 2012 spending bills. Subcommittees haven't received specific allocations, but tens of billions in new cuts will be required. As they did with the fiscal 2011 budget, Republicans will hit those targets and run head-long into Senate Democratic opposition.
Translation: the Ryan budget not only tees up a clash over entitlements and tax policy, it sets the stage for another shutdown scenario if the House and Senate can't—as is now widely expected—finish its appropriations work by September 30.