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.”