JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 10, 2011
In the wake of the New York special election, conservative pundits engaged in a frenzy of spin asserting that the House Republican budget was not to blame and that people actually liked it, or would like it once it was properly explained. The extent to which they actually believed this is unclear. In any case, the line of defense has quietly disappeared. Charles Krauthammer today argues that the Ryan budget has crippled the GOP's ability to attack Obama as a radical:
Last month, Democrats turned the race for the 26th Congressional District of New York into a referendum on Medicare, and more specifically on the Paul Ryan plan for reforming it. The Republicans lost the seat — after having held it for more than four decades. ...
Now, however, the Obama pitch is stronger: Leftist? On the contrary, I bestride the center like a colossus, protecting Medicare from Republican right-wing social engineering.
And The Hill reports that some House Republicans, feel burned by having voted for Ryan's budget. Unfortunately, they've decided the answer is not to move to the center, but to refuse to vote for a debt ceiling increase:
Some House Republicans who supported Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget are wary of voting to increase the nation’s debt ceiling, fearing a barrage of campaign ads in the 2012 election.
Republican officials say the dynamic of two tough votes so close to one another reminds them of when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scheduled floor votes on climate change and healthcare reform in 2009. A year later, Democrats lost control of the lower chamber.
One well-connected GOP insider said Ryan’s budget is “our version of cap-and-trade.”
The source, who requested anonymity, added that Republican “rank-and-file members are very, very concerned that this was the canary in the coalmine on Medicare and it’s going to affect all of the other difficult votes that leadership is going to ask them to make.”
It is kind of funny that Republicans consider literally anything-- including a public revolt against their ideological conservatism -- as evidence that they need to take a more hard line politically. In this case, the interpretation is especially daft. First of all, raising the debt ceiling may not be popular, but if they precipitate an economic crisis, the public will blame them. (The public will also punish Obama for a weak economy, but that may not help incumbent members of Congress.)
Second, a debt agreement with Obama is the House GOP's best chance to get past the Ryan budget. They can argue that the deficit problem has been solved, or partially solved, and we no longer need to end Medicare as we know it. It won't fully protect them, but it will do more to protect them than anything else they could do.