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Rep. Ryan Risks Political Backlash With GOP Budget Rollout

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairs the House Budget Committee. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

The Morning Line

As Congress wrangles over relatively minuscule reductions in non-defense discretionary spending for the remainder of the fiscal year (more on that below), Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is taking the long view Tuesday as he rolls out the House Republican budget for FY 2012 and puts a marker down on major reforms to Medicaid and Medicare in an effort to rein in the long-term drivers of the country’s debt and deficit.

The House Budget Committee chairman provides a blueprint of his plan on the opinion page of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal:

“For starters, it cuts $6.2 trillion in spending from the president’s budget over the next 10 years, reduces the debt as a percentage of the economy, and puts the nation on a path to actually pay off our national debt. Our proposal brings federal spending to below 20% of gross domestic product (GDP), consistent with the postwar average, and reduces deficits by $4.4 trillion.”

Here’s Rep. Ryan’s YouTube video:

Be sure to tune in to Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour to catch Judy Woodruff’s interview with Rep. Ryan.

Robert Pear of the New York Times describes how Rep. Ryan plans to transform Medicaid and Medicare so that the growth in unsustainable costs associated with those programs begin to slow.

“Under the proposal, Medicaid would be transformed into a block grant, with a lump sum of federal money given to the states to care for low-income people. States would be given more discretion over use of the money than they have under the current federal-state partnership.

“For future Medicare beneficiaries — people now under 55 — Mr. Ryan’s proposal calls for the federal government to contribute a specified amount of money toward the premium for private health coverage. Under the traditional Medicare program, the government reimburses doctors and hospitals directly.”

The substance is well worth exploring, but this being Washington, the politics are likely to overwhelm the substance immediately.

In his National Journal Daily column, Charlie Cook writes of some concerned Republicans:

“Talking with Republican pollsters, strategists and veteran campaign professionals recently, I now hear sounds of concern that haven’t been heard in almost two years.

“Among the worries the party now has is that a government shutdown could get blamed on the GOP. Additionally, these party insiders believe that taking on entitlements, specifically Medicare, could jeopardize the party’s hold on the House, its strong chances of taking the Senate and the stronghold that the party has been established with older white voters– not coincidentally, Medicare recipients.”

If you thought Republicans demagogued the health care bill last year by describing what could happen to seniors’ medical care with the $500 billion in cuts to Medicare, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Democrats, who are well aware that Sen. John McCain’s eight-point advantage among seniors in 2008 grew to a 21-point advantage for Republicans in 2010, are far more eager to use Rep. Ryan’s budget as the defining political argument for the next 19 months than they are to sit across from him at the negotiating table and find a deal on these huge deficit drivers.

Watch carefully Tuesday how the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will immediately hammer away at Republicans pressuring them to embrace or reject Rep. Ryan’s plan. And unless President Obama declares that kind of politicizing out of bounds, it’ll likely continue from now through November 2012.

BUDGET BATTLE

With budget talks on Capitol Hill seemingly headed nowhere fast, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders will make the short trek down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House Tuesday morning to see if a change of scenery will help move negotiations along.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who has been tapped to lead the negotiations that have thus far primarily remained at the staff level, will sit down in the Oval Office with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Inouye and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers.

The meeting, scheduled for 10:15 a.m. EDT, is closed to the press, but both sides will almost certainly seek to shape the conversation in their favor once the doors open.

Tuesday’s gathering comes after a day of political posturing on both sides, with Rep. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Reid, D-Nev., each trying to blame the other for the current gridlock.

Rep. Boehner argued that Democrats have misrepresented the progress achieved in the talks to this point. “I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors. That’s unacceptable,” the House speaker said in a statement.

Sen. Reid accused the Rep. Boehner of bowing to pressure from Tea Party members of the House Republican conference, who continue to insist on $61 billion in cuts, which the majority leader called “dangerous.”

With time running out, the Obama administration has instructed agency officials to begin preparing workers for a potential shutdown, reports Ed O’Keefe of the Washington Post. “[G]iven the realities of the calendar, good management requires that we continue contingency planning for an orderly shutdown,” Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients wrote in a memo obtained by O’Keefe.

House Republicans are bracing for a shutdown as well, with Speaker Boehner telling members during a meeting Monday night that they would be receiving instructions on how to operate in the event a funding deal cannot be struck by the end of the day Friday.

The Post’s Paul Kane and Jon Cohen report that Rep. Boehner received “an ovation” when he informed GOP conference members of a possible shutdown.

As a measure of last resort, House Republicans also introduced a one-week funding stopgap Monday night that would cut $12 billion in discretionary spending and fund the Department of Defense for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

All this maneuvering appears to have done little to shift public opinion about who would be seen as more responsible for a government shutdown.

According to a new poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of respondents say Republicans would be more to blame if the impasse holds, while 36 percent would put the onus on the Obama administration. Sixteen percent of those surveyed say both sides would be at fault.

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder both sides are working hard not just to avert a shutdown, but pin the blame on the other side if one does happen.

THE PROXY ELECTION

In Wisconsin Tuesday, a technically non-partisan election for a state Supreme Court seat has become a proxy battle for public support of Gov. Scott Walker’s quest to end collective bargaining rights for most public sector employees.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“In the high court race, the only statewide contest, unions and liberal forces are lining up behind Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, arguing that a vote for conservative-backed Justice David Prosser is an endorsement of Walker. Both candidates proclaim their independence while disparaging each other’s impartiality.”

The New York Times notes Sarah Palin has tweeted her support for Justice Prosser.

The results will be widely viewed through the prism of last month’s intense battles between labor unions and Gov. Walker and his Republican allies in the state Senate. If the Democrats and their labor supporters can successfully parlay the passion on display in Madison during the budget fight into ballot box victory, many observers will cite this election as the beginning of a post-2010 political order.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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