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 Catalin
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Michael Catalin
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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