The Paul Ryan budget won't hit until tomorrow, but its accompanying political firestorm is here already.
Senate Democrats vowed this morning to use the document—and especially its plan to voucherize Medicare, its insistence that the budget be balanced entirely through spending cuts, and specifically its cuts education spending—as a club with which to pummel GOP senate candidates in the 2014 races.
"There is crystal clear evidence that the Republican policies had negative impact on races around the country" in the 2012 senate races, Guy Cecil, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's executive director, told reporters on a conference call on Monday morning. Democrats have to defend 21 seats this cycle, 10 of which are rated by the Cook Political Report as either toss-ups or just lean Democrat. In addition, seven of those 10 competitive seats are in states which voted for Mitt Romney last year (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia). But Cecil and Democratic pollster Geoff Garin pointed out that the policies expected in the Ryan budget proved problematic for red state Republicans last year. Specifically, he noted that the National Republican Senatorial Committee paid hundreds of thousands of dollars last year for ads promoting then-Rep. Denny Rehberg's opposition to the Ryan budget (which, the ad said, "could harm the Medicare program so many Montana seniors rely on."). "The Republican brand has become a drag on candidates who are tarnished with it even in states that are reasonably red in their complexion," Garin said.
It’s a striking sign of how radioactive the Ryan budget is in Democrats’ view that the DSCC held a rare conference call with its executive director and major pollster to highlight someone who’s not in the Senate and not going to run for the Senate.
Cecil specifically targeted 14 House Republicans who are or may run for Senate seats in this cycle (while he didn't name them, DSCC National Press Secretary Justin Barasky filled in the blanks via E-mail: Reps. Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Cory Gardner of Colorado; Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Jack Kingston of Georgia; Steve King of Iowa; Jeff Landry, John Fleming, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Erik Paulsen and John Kline of Minnesota; Justin Amash and Mike Rogers of Michigan; and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.) Of that group, 13 have already voted for the original Ryan plan, with freshman Cotton teed up to put his name on the line (or "walk the plank" as Cecil put it) this year.
Garin added that the biggest difference between the 2010 and 2014 cycles is that the GOP is no longer a blank cipher with which people can vent their frustrations with the status quo. Three years ago the GOP was entirely out of power; now they are part of the problem and have a well-defined—and unpopular—agenda. He said that in the seven red states where Senate Democrats must play defense this year, the real impact of the Ryan budget is that
it has opened up the center for Democrats in those states … So that if it's a choice between a Democrat who's got some demonstrated record of independence … versus somebody who's followed the Republican line at a moment when people disagree with what the Republican line is, I think that that's a frame that makes those states completely manageable for Democrats in a way that they are completely unmanageable in 2010.
Garin added that, "in strictly political terms the Ryan budget will be a gift that keeps giving throughout the 2014 cycle for Democrats."
Time will tell. The first measure of how correct Democrats are here—and I think they're not blowing smoke—will be whether any of the aforementioned 14 vote against the Ryan budget. Given the dynamics of the GOP (the need to avoid giving potential primary opponents an opening) I wouldn't count on it.
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