The House is voting on a series of competing budget plans today, with the expectation that Paul Ryan’s budget will secure passage. But Democrats almost deked the House into voting for the even more conservative Republican Study Group plan, by voting “present” en masse:

As part of an effort to sow Republican divisions and kill the proposal of House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., 172 Democrats voted ‘present’ on the conservative alternative offered by the Republican Study Committee.

Had the alternative, which offers deeper spending cuts, passed, it would have replaced the Ryan proposal. It ultimately failed 119 to 136, so what the move did was force more Republicans to vote against the conservative budget.

That’s actually pretty funny, from a tactical perspective. Apparently Paul Ryan started yelling at Steny Hoyer over this. Ryan wanted the vote gaveled shut before more Democrats could change their votes from No to Present. As it was, key members of the GOP leadership like David Dreier and Cathy McMorris Rodgers had to be enlisted to vote against the conservative alternative.

There’s a vote going on right now on the Democratic alternative budget from Chris Van Hollen. There’s also a planned vote on “The People’s Budget,” the alternative from the Progressive Caucus.

This is all kind of amusing, but also irrelevant. The end result is that the House will pass the Ryan budget. Democratic leaders expect almost unanimous opposition to the Ryan budget, which would privatize Medicare and block grant Medicaid. And there will probably be some Republicans in swing districts allowed to defect from it as well. But ultimately it will pass.

There’s a political element to this and a policy element. On a political level, taking a vote on the Ryan budget is dangerous for Republicans. Today, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has a poll out on the Ryan budget showing massive opposition:

Less than half the public initially approves of the Republican House budget proposal — described simply as a “budget for the next 10 years that they say will cut 6.2 trillion dollars from the federal budget.” A fifth do not know the plan enough to respond, but it is noteworthy that a budget described only as deficit reduction gets just 48 percent support at the outset.

When the budget is described — using as much of Paul Ryan’s description as possible (see text box below)— support collapses to 36 percent, with just 19 percent strongly supporting the plan. The facts in the budget lose people almost immediately – dropping 12 points. Putting the spotlight on this budget is damning. A large majority of 56 percent oppose it, 42 percent strongly. The impact is much stronger with seniors where support erodes from 48 percent to just 32 percent, with 57 percent opposed. Support with independents drops from 55 percent to 43 percent.

The Republican coalition, of course, depends heavily on seniors. And core Democrats are energized in their opposition to this plan. So politically it’s a bad sell, and it will come back to hurt some Republicans who vote for it today.

But on a policy level, it’s the same tactical move we’ve seen Republicans succeed with before, often called the “Overton window” strategy. The Ryan budget sets up the debate on the far right, shifting everyone else to that position. It’s a maximalist play that allows the GOP to give up plenty in negotiations while still arriving at a conservative resolution. Viewed from this angle, it would have been a bad idea to allow the even more conservative RSG plan to pass, but Ryan wasn’t going to allow that. His budget will suffice as the rightward pole of the debate, because it’s pretty far right.

We should have the final tallies within the hour.