It was too premature for people to yell “Where are the Democrats?” in response to the passage of the Paul Ryan budget that ends Medicare and cripples Medicaid and food stamps. The above Americans United for Change ad, airing in several Republican districts (including wackjob Steve King’s, which through redistricting is more blue and where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s wife Christine is making a run), is only the beginning. The thing Republicans smartly did was to propose and pass the Ryan budget in the House in a week; because the health care bill took months to get off the ground, conservative activists were able to have plenty of time to mount a counter-offensive. The thing Republicans did not do so smartly was pass a bill that ended Medicare without having the Senate or the Presidency; now, that bill will linger, and continue to be a ripe subject for criticism. Republicans probably helped themselves from a policy standpoint by passing the most far to the right budget possible, but politically it will unquestionably hurt them. And Republicans feeling pressure in their home districts know this.
Congress is on its first recess since Republican leaders unveiled a plan to end the federal deficit by dramatically changing Medicare, cutting other government programs and reducing taxes. With members of the House returning home to meet with constituents, politicians have been anxiously looking for signs of trouble.
…in many places, Democrats turned out to express their opposition, much as Republicans had done in the healthcare debate. In a Pennsylvania coal town, a man outraged by the GOP budget plan was escorted out of a town hall by police. In Wisconsin, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the architect of the Republican plan, was booed in his own district as he outlined the proposal.
Here in Hillsborough (New Hampshire), a bedroom community in a state known for a fiscally conservative streak, (Rep. Charlie) Bass painted a doomsday picture, saying the country would be “basically ruined” if it did not curb the growth of government. But a group of gray-haired constituents — most later identified themselves as Democrats — quickly pushed him back on his heels. He struggled to defend the GOP plan vigorously, once mischaracterizing a key element. By the time he left, he seemed less than wedded to the details.
One reason why we’re not necessarily hearing about every town hall in America being overrun by angry seniors is that many Republicans are just avoiding meeting with constituents. That’s not a very sustainable solution, of course.
Democrats in the Senate are considering putting the Ryan budget up for a vote to draw out Republicans on the issue. They obviously think they have a political winner here. Not one House Democrat voted for the Ryan budget, and I would expect the same to hold in the Senate. Susan Collins (R-ME) has already come out against the Ryan budget.
There’s definitely a lot of risk involved to Republicans for proposing an end to Medicare. But there’s far more risk to social policy from Republicans moving so far to the right and Democrats not holding their ground, shifting the center and promising major cutbacks in spending that will most likely hurt the middle class and the poor.