Former Rep. Jim Nussle, the architect of Republican budgets under President George W. Bush, says the GOP should spend political capital and embrace a plan that privatizes Social Security and ends Medicare. In an interview with TPMDC, Nussle said that even though Republican leadership isn’t publicly jumping on board to Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget “roadmap,” it is a fiscally responsible framework that will guide the Republicans into the campaign season.
“Even if they don’t go exactly the way he wants them to with the roadmap he gives them a lot of good ideas to pick and choose from,” Nussle told me today.
And Nussle (R-IA) knows something about writing Republican spending plans, since he led the Budget Committee during Bush’s first term. He most recently served as Bush’s Office of Management and Budget director, lost the Iowa governor’s race in 2006 and now leads a consulting firm.
Nussle compares the early reaction to the Ryan roadmap to when he and Rep. John Boehner (now minority leader) wrote the Contract with America in 1994.TPMDC has been talking to conservative groups, former members of Congress and Republican consultants keeping a close eye on the 2010 midterm elections. The Ryan budget, which cuts Social Security and Medicare benefits and creates a Medicare voucher system, also offers broad tax cuts and includes a spending freeze and rescinds unspent funds from the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.
Nussle and Republican consultants unwilling to speak on the record say the GOP risks permanently being painted as the “party of no” and as lacking guts to present a real plan for fiscal solvency – something the party says President Obama has failed to do.
Nussle said questions about whether Democrats are fairly painting the Ryan plan as the Republican budget are moot because the GOP earned “a certain amount of criticism for not having a health care proposal.”
“This may not be the official line, or the leadership bill, but Ryan is showing the way you can accomplish fiscal responsibility and tax reform and it does show the direction that we want to go in,” Nussle said.
The interview comes as budget battle lines are being drawn on Capitol Hill – with House Republicans conflicted about supporting the Ryan plan and Democrats seizing on it as potential political windfall similar to the 2005 fight over privatizing Social Security.
Ryan, the Budget Committee ranking member , and his budget friends are digging in their heels and going more public each day in defense of his dramatic plan to slash Social Security and Medicare to end the deficit. (Who are in the Gang of 10? Find out here.)
Nussle, who considers Ryan a friend, said the congressman is one of the most creative members of the GOP caucus.
Republicans told me it’s not that surprising that GOP leaders aren’t attaching themselves to the Ryan plan – yet – since members will be fending off diverse challenges from California to Pennsylvania. Fiscal issues play differently across the nation and leadership is reluctant to embrace drastic cuts to popular social programs that are easily caricatured by political enemies.
“They are trying to stave off the attacks they stand for nothing and don’t have any plans, but they also trying to be creative and manage campaigns across the country,” Nussle said.
He advised Republicans jump on the most politically feasible parts of the Ryan plan and remain on offense.
It leaves the GOP vulnerable to the majority party’s attacks similar to the Social Security fight in 2005, and our Democratic sources tell us they plan to exploit the Ryan plan as often as possible.
(TPM’s Josh Marshall lays out the stakes for 2010 here.)
Ed. note: This post has been edited from the original.