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First Thoughts: Return of the Ryan budget

Ryan budget takes center stage again … Balances budget in 10 years, but he keeps ObamaCare Medicare savings while at the same time assuming the law’s repeal. But he says it’s not about the “how,” it’s about the “why.” … Bottom line: There’s not much compromise in Ryan’s budget -- and there likely isn’t much in the Democrats’ either. … Obama meets with Senate Democrats, where there will be some friction over his overtures to Republicans. … Do the politics of usual hamper the potential for a grand bargain? … CPAC starts Thursday – and the pizza vs. box will be on full display … Priebus goes to Brooklyn, as the party tries to go high tech.

*** Return of the Ryan budget: For the third time in the last three years, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will once again unveil a budget today that conservatives will cheer, that liberals will despise, and that will kick off a debate over spending and budget priorities between the two parties. What pleases conservatives: It balances the budget within a 10-year timeframe (his previous ones waited until much longer to do that); it tackles entitlements (Medicare and Medicaid) as well as tax reform; and it isn’t shy about where it wants to take the country. What infuriates liberals: It ignores the election results from 2012 (Ryan and Romney largely campaigned on that budget last fall, especially the changes to Medicare, and lost); it cynically assumes ObamaCare’s $716 billion in Medicare cuts as a way to balance the budget in 10 years (despite Ryan saying he and Romney would restore those cuts during the campaign); and it also assumes the revenue from the fiscal-cliff tax increases (which a majority of House Republicans voted against). Ryan has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about his plan. He leads off talking about the debt and emphasizes the “why” not “how” to get to a balanced budget. But bottom line: the only way Ryan got to a balanced budget in 10 years is using Obama’s tax increases and Obama’s Medicare cuts. 

Jacquelyn Martin / AP file photo

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. leaves a Republican caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.

*** Flashback: Just how much did Ryan campaign against the Medicare savings in ObamaCare, check out this from his GOP convention speech: "You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn't have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So they just took it all away from Medicare -- $716 billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn't ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is ObamaCare, and we're going to stop it." 

*** No compromise: More than anything else, Ryan’s budget is mostly unchanged from its last two -- even though he lost a national election -- and doesn’t offer a hint of compromise. (Ryan touting on FOX that he and Romney won the elderly vote in 2012 is akin to the grunge band from “Singles” saying they’re huge in Belgium.) And it raises the question as Senate Democrats prepare their own budget and as President Obama continues his charm offensive: Is Ryan capable of cutting a deal? Up until now (like on the Simpson-Bowles commission), Ryan hasn’t reached across to the other side. For all of Ryan’s talk that Obama isn’t serious about cutting the deficit/budget, it’s noteworthy that he wouldn’t COME CLOSE to balancing the budget in 10 years without two of Obama’s priorities: the health-care law and the fiscal-cliff deal. Ryan and House Republicans believe their method would lead to growth, but liberals got a boost yesterday when the Wall Street Journal reported that without cuts in the public sector, a.k.a. government jobs, unemployment would be 7.1% rather than the 7.7% where it is today. 

*** Obama meets with Senate Dems: Speaking of budgets, Senate Democrats are aiming to come out with theirs tomorrow. As we’ve noted previously, it will -- incredibly -- be the first budget they’ve released in four years. It won’t be all sunshine and roses for President Obama when he meets with Democrats today at 1:30 pm ET. There will likely be a little friction and skepticism from liberals on just what the president’s up to with Republican chats on grand bargain, according to a top Capitol Hill Democratic source. Not to mention, Democrats are already second-guessing the president’s deal-making during the fiscal cliff and the Congressional Black Caucus is wondering why there haven’t been more black cabinet nominees. And it will also be interesting to see the tone the president takes on the Ryan budget. The previous two years, the launch of the Ryan budget was cause for the White House to go into full campaign mode. But given the new tone of outreach the president is setting, does the president get critical of Ryan quickly or take a different tact? And then there’s the White House reaction to the Senate Democratic budget, how fully does the White House embrace it? With their own budget coming out sometime NEXT month, how those two budgets differ will be magnified and certainly COULD be a way for the White House to signal where it will compromise and where it won’t.

*** Politics as usual comes creeping in: While there’s some hope that a deal for a grand bargain is possible, given the White House’s desire for one and the president’s reaching out to rank-and-file Senate Republicans, the campaign arms of both parties are chomping at the bit over these budgets. The DSCC will go after several 2014 hopefuls over the Ryan budget. The DCCC and House Majority PAC are out with videos hitting Republicans as well. For the GOP’s part, they are eager to (finally) get a Democratic budget they feel like they can use against them. The NRCC is raising money off Ryan’s plan, and going after several freshmen. So if this was supposed to be a week breaking out a bit of budget kumbaya, think again. The politics of usual is also setting in. Somehow to get a budget to Obama, the two parties have to merge these political documents. Merging their politics is not something they’ve been able to even come close to doing in the last four-plus years. What is fascinating is how here you have the president and several Senate Republicans (and others), who say they want to clear the brush and get a big deal. But the campaign arms are fired up this week. How much does all this impact the chance at a grand bargain? Meanwhile, keep an eye on this other political sideshow that is developing in the talking-point wars between the two parties: the battle to own the word “balance” -- balanced budget vs. balanced approach. Democrats and the White House have used “balanced approach” as a buzzword to signal that the Republicans are uncompromising. Republicans hope to use the idea of a “balanced budget” to show the Democrats aren’t serious about the debt.

*** Just say no: With CPAC beginning on Thursday, conservatives and political observers have asked this question: Are the GOP’s problems about policy or are they due to the packaging? In other words, is it the pizza or the box? But looking at our most recent NBC/WSJ poll (conducted and released last month), the problems seem to involve a combination of the two: Americans associate Republicans with negativity in both policy and the tone -- they want to stop things, eliminate them, cut them, etc. Asked an open-ended question what one or two specific things they agree or disagree with the most that Republicans in Congress are proposing, 58% answered in disagreement. And those responses were almost about a negative rather than an affirmative. Not compromising with Democrats (11%), opposing gun control (10%), not taxing the wealthy (8%), getting rid of Obamacare (7%), and reevaluating entitlement programs (6%). And even the comments from the 31% in agreement with the GOP gave somewhat negative answers instead of affirmative ones: protecting gun rights (8%), cutting spending/managing spending (8%), cutting/not raising taxes (5%).

*** What are you FOR rather than simply AGAINST? By comparison, the 49% who said they agreed with President Obama gave affirmative responses: health care (15%), better/more gun control (13%), economic policies (11%), immigration reform (7%), creating more jobs (5%), more support for education. And the 48% who disagreed with Obama also gave affirmative responses: Obamacare (18%), gun-control legislation (16%), handling of the economy (7%), and handling of immigration reform (5%). Of course, when you’re out of power -- whether you’re the Democrats or Republicans -- you’re typically opposing the party in power, so these responses aren’t all that surprising. But this does speak to the fact why Americans right now have a more negative opinion of the GOP. And as we watch CPAC, especially the speeches by potential 2016ers, it will be interesting to hear what the speakers stand FOR rather than AGAINST. 

*** Reince in Brooklyn; RNC to make digital expansion: It’s no secret that the Republican Party was walloped in two key areas in 2012 – with minorities and technology (especially with behavioral analytics). There was evidence yesterday that the Republican National Committee is taking steps to address both. RNC Chair Reince Priebus went to Brooklyn, NY, yesterday, where he met with black Republicans. And later in the day, NBC’s Sarah Boxer reported that the party is planning a major digital overhaul after it releases its autopsy of the 2012 election Monday.

*** Bloomberg soda ban blocked: The New York Times: “A judge struck down New York’s limits on large sugary drinks on Monday, one day before they were to take effect, in a significant blow to one of the most ambitious and divisive initiatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure. … The decision comes at a sensitive time for Mr. Bloomberg, who is determined to burnish his legacy as he enters the final months of his career in City Hall, and his administration seemed caught off guard by the decision.” Bloomberg said yesterday he would appeal. The New York Post goes for “Pour it on.” How many “soda/pop/coke” (whatever you want to call it) will there be at CPAC now…?

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