Democrats: We’re Excited To Debate GOP Shadow Budget…Why Aren’t Republicans?

Lauren Victoria Burke

Democrats aren’t letting Republicans run away from the GOP shadow budget–a Social Security and Medicare slashing bill sponsored by their top budget guy, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). But they don’t want the issue to disappear from view–in fact, they want it to be a defining issue of the 2010 election. And as such are trying to frame it just right–elevating Ryan and his proposal to magnify the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

“Representative Ryan has made a proposal, significant parts of which I do not agree [with],” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) at his weekly press event this afternoon. “However, having said that, it is a serious proposal made by a member in my opinion who has very sincere objectives in mind. And it is a substantive proposal.”

I asked Hoyer what he made of the GOP leadership’s response to the Ryan plan.

“Mr. Boehner as I understand it, when asked which proposals in the Ryan proposal he [opposed] he couldn’t articulate any of them,” Hoyer said. “Mr. Ryan is the ranking Republican on the budget committee. If they were the majority, presumably he’d be the chairman of the budget committee. Some of the things he’s proposed are controversial.”

This is just one of the ways one of the ways Democrats are trying to force Republicans to confront the proposal, which could have long political legs.“We definitely view this as a real gift as far as allowing us to finally have a real debate with Republicans on the issues,” a Democratic leadership aide told me today. “I think the president when he did his Q and A with the Republicans, exposed them and their ideas and it’s been something that–it has been difficult for us to do over the last year because we’ve been so busy passing legislation, we haven’t been able to engage Republicans on their ideas and where they’d take the country.”

“I think you’re going to see an aggressive effort from outside groups and others who for a while, we’ve been all working to defend what we’re doing, and that’s allowed Republicans to basically run around basically untouched,” the aide went on. “For them they have been able to avoid any scrutiny of what they’d do if they were in the majority”

“They’re already running around measuring drapes for their new congressional offices,” the aide said. “But before that happens we’re going to force them to answer whether or not these are ideas that they support, and if they don’t support them, what do they plan to do with Social Security, with Medicare, with the deficit.”

Why are Democrats confident that this will stick? Why won’t Republicans just walk away from Ryan unscathed? Because the conservative base is in charge of things now.

“Many of them are in primaries…this is the sort of thing that will drive a wedge between them and their conservative base,” the leadership aide said. “They’re going to have to keep an eye on the general…but they’ve got to get to the general.”

And for that reason, you’ll see a relentless push on the part of leadership to keep the shadow budget, and the Republicans who can’t quite support or oppose it, on the surface.

“I admire [Ryan] for putting a very substantive [proposal] on the table,” Hoyer said today. “I think the Republicans, if they don’t support his proposal, put something else on the table.”