Ryan Budget Plays the Role of Democratic Bogeyman — Just Plug in the Race

From North Carolina to Alaska, Democrats are attacking the Republican plan over Medicare.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 09: U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) (R) speaks at a press conference highlighting how veterans are being impacted by the government shutdown with (L-R) Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) at the U.S. Capitol October 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. During the event, Tester and others discussed how critical veterans services are being affected by the shutdown.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
April 28, 2014, 4:27 p.m.

In the days be­fore and after the House passed Rep. Paul Ry­an’s Re­pub­lic­an budget, Demo­crats eagerly de­nounced the plan and prom­ised to make it an elec­tion is­sue.

Now, that op­pos­i­tion is in full bloom on the cam­paign trail, as Demo­crats from North Car­o­lina to Alaska — and in the Sen­ate, as well as the House — at­tempt to cast the doc­u­ment as a rad­ic­al Re­pub­lic­an vis­ion and an at­tack on Medi­care.

Can­did­ates are blanket­ing sup­port­ers with emails that use Ry­an’s budget to raise money and build grass­roots sup­port. One group of 12 law­makers is even back­ing a pe­ti­tion — and in­vit­ing sup­port­ers to sign on — that aims to link Ry­an’s budget to Re­pub­lic­an donors Charles and Dav­id Koch, whom na­tion­al Demo­crats have vil­i­fied.

“The Ry­an Plan re­flects all the wrong pri­or­it­ies,” Sen. Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina said in a re­cent email to sup­port­ers. “It’s a plan that I’m sure the Koch broth­ers and oth­er spe­cial in­terests love — it con­tains most of their pet policies. But it’s com­pletely out of touch with North Car­o­lina fam­il­ies.”

House Re­pub­lic­ans passed Ry­an’s budget earli­er this month, primar­ily as a mes­saging doc­u­ment, and they are hardly run­ning away from it. Rather, many see it as a way to high­light the con­ser­vat­ive fisc­al prin­ciples — such as a bal­anced budget with­in a dec­ade — that have helped make Ry­an a force with­in his party in re­cent years.

Al­though the Ry­an budget has no chance of pro­gress­ing any fur­ther, Demo­crats are eager to ce­ment the link between the Budget Com­mit­tee chair­man’s plan and Medi­care, fo­cus­ing on the budget’s aim to con­vert the pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment pro­gram in­to what Re­pub­lic­ans call a “premi­um sup­port” mod­el and what Demo­crats call a “vouch­er pro­gram.”

“The Ry­an budget in the minds of Demo­crats in Iowa — and voters in Iowa — is an es­tab­lished brand and rep­res­ents a rad­ic­al vis­ion, par­tic­u­larly with re­spect to Medi­care,” said Jeff Giertz, a spokes­man for Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bruce Bra­ley, who is run­ning for the Sen­ate seat there.

Hagan is run­ning one of the most com­pet­it­ive con­tests this cycle, and is likely to face North Car­o­lina state House Speak­er Thom Tillis in Novem­ber in a state that has seen Re­pub­lic­ans take over the gov­ern­ment in Raleigh since her last elec­tion. Her race is also at the epi­cen­ter of out­side-group spend­ing on be­half of the Koch broth­ers.

In an email sent to sup­port­ers, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, who has been re­lent­less in his cri­ti­cism of the Kochs, put a fine point on the con­nec­tion: “We might as well just call it the “˜Ry­an-Koch Budget Plan,’ “ he wrote, adding, “I will not con­sider a budget that turns Medi­care in­to vouch­ers.”

But not all Demo­crats are cast­ing the is­sue in the same light. Sen. Mark Be­gich of Alaska, who is also run­ning in a com­pet­it­ive con­test in a state won by Mitt Rom­ney and Ry­an in 2012, is leav­ing the Kochs out of his email to sup­port­ers.

“For nearly 50 mil­lion seni­ors across the coun­try, the House’s rad­ic­al plan to turn Medi­care in­to a vouch­er pro­gram is all wrong,” Be­gich wrote re­cently. “Medi­care is a vi­tal be­ne­fit, not a par­tis­an bar­gain­ing chip. I’ll nev­er gamble with seni­ors’ Medi­care.”

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­gin­ia, who faces a chal­lenge from former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Gillespie in a state that re­jec­ted the con­ser­vat­ive cam­paign of At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Cuc­cinelli last year, casts the tea party as the prin­cip­al ant­ag­on­ist.

“I be­lieve in a bal­anced ap­proach to our budget, not the slash-and-burn ap­proach of the tea-party budget put forth by the House,” Warner said in an email on Monday.

Pub­lic polling seems to bol­ster the Demo­crat­ic lo­gic, at least as far as Medi­care goes. A re­cent NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll showed that 69 per­cent of voters would be less likely to back a can­did­ate who sup­ports re­duc­tions to the so­cial safety net, in­clud­ing Medi­care.

Sen­ate Demo­crats, though, have not passed a budget this year and aren’t plan­ning to — and that’s a sa­li­ent fact for Re­pub­lic­ans. They de­ride Demo­crats in the Sen­ate over it, even though budget num­bers and pri­or­it­ies were set in the two-year budget deal that Con­gress ap­proved.

“House Re­pub­lic­ans have a plan to bal­ance the budget in 10 years,” said Ry­an spokes­man Wil­li­am Al­lis­on. “Sen­ate Demo­crats, on the oth­er hand, have no plan — they didn’t even write a budget. All they have to of­fer is more of the same old par­tis­an at­tacks.”

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