WASHINGTON — The federal budget plans coming from House Republicans (a balanced budget in 10 years) and Senate Democrats (containing nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenue) this week are bold proposals but largely fruitless exercises, given their completely hopeless prospects of becoming law.
The House budget is dead in the Senate, and the Senate’s in the House. Obama’s budget will fail whenever Congress gets it, and though the hope is a return to “regular order,” the process by which the House and Senate meet to resolve their differences on various budget bills, there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen.
But one thing is sure. The budget plans have a lot longer shelf life as political documents than they do as formal policy proposals. If the Senate votes down (or refuses to take up) the House’s budget plan, for example, Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare are unlikely to ever see the floor again. But the political arms of both parties will make certain you remember these budgets, and the votes members take on them, come campaign season.
Democrats are likely to hit the GOP hard for again including structural changes to Medicare, which have already come back to bite some Republicans in the past. The House Majority PAC invested nearly $1.5 million in the race to unseat Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican, last year and made his votes in favor of the Ryan plan a key part of the campaign against him.
The group also dug into the guts of the GOP budget and highlighted its cuts to education funding in a late-cycle ad that aired a week before Election Day.
House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone said such messaging is likely again this year, especially against the PAC’s early targets, a group that includes GOP Reps. John Kline and Michele Bachmann.
“It’s easier to do because this is now the third time that Paul Ryan has proposed a budget that is this extreme,” he said. “People know about it and people know a lot of about the elements of it that are unpopular.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has its eyes on Minnesota’s three House Republicans, as well. With any one of Kline, Bachmann and Erik Paulsen a possible challenger to Sen. Al Franken next November, the DSCC put a statement prebutting the Minnesotans’ support for the bill just hours after it was introduced.
Republicans try to win back word ‘balance’
The Medicare attack as been a frequent one for Democrats since Ryan first proposed the chances back in 2011. The Republican message has been less consistent, though they’ve landed on one this year: The GOP balances the budget in 10 years, something Democrats aren’t even trying to do.
There are two parts to such a message. First is the GOP plan, of course, which Ryan called, “a means to a healthier economy, a pro-growth society, a pro-growth economy that delivers opportunity” on Tuesday.
The second are statements from both the White House and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic budget chief in the House. This week, both said a balanced budget isn’t necessary, as long as the economy is growing and the government slows the growth of the deficit and stabilizes the amount of debt it carries.
So the NRCC has tried to pressure freshman Democrats, including Rep. Rick Nolan, to “stand up for a balanced budget and speak out against his party’s fiscal irresponsibility,” they said this week.
In essence, the GOP is trying to win back the term “balanced.” In the context of the deficit battles that have consumed Washington over the past two years, Democrats have been the ones more likely to use the word, as in, a balance between spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit. Republicans want the word tied instead to a budget in which government expenditures match revenue.
Messaging against the Senate
The Senate is going to get in the game this week as well when Democrats formally release their budget proposal Wednesday and work to pass it for the first time since 2009. The budget will contain nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenue, which will make it unpalatable in the House.
The lack of a Senate budget resolution has been a huge talking point for both House Republicans (who have looked to pin Washington dysfunction on upper chamber liberals) and GOP Senate candidates for years. It was one of the key components of Kurt Bills’ campaign against Sen. Amy Klobuchar last year.
But Bills’ former campaign manager Mike Osskopp said the traditional Republican talking points on the Senate and its lack of a budget have been largely toothless. A better message, he said, would be to focus on what the lack of a budget resolution and the breakdown of the traditional Washington budgeting process means for voters.
“In light of the fact that Barack Obama was re-elected president” and the Democrats made gains in the House and Senate, “I don’t know how you can claim we were successful at it,” he said. “It was the wrong message because people just don’t care. ‘How does all this crap in Washington affect me?’”
Of course, the “Senate hasn’t passed a budget” message gets thrown out the window if Senate Democrats do vote on a plan. If it includes new tax revenue, Osskopp said it’s a much easier case to take to voters than an often-murky debate over congressional procedure.
“We never had a chance to talk to the public about why this was bad,” he said. “Until people understand why this is important and what’s stopping it from happening, nobody cares.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry