In rolling out his fourth spending proposal as House Budget Committee chairman, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan returned to a familiar Republican theme -- one that underscores a political vulnerability and reveals a lingering frustration.
Particularly on the issue of health care, but also on jobs, economic growth and improving the lives of Americans who have been hurt by the recession, House Republicans have struggled to break free from accusations that they have no solutions of their own, only well-worn criticisms of President Obama's policies. That criticism has hurt them with voters. And with legislators eager to leave their mark on public policy, the charge has grated on them.
That's probably why House Republicans are releasing a fiscal 2015 budget although it has no chances of becoming law, and why they have appeared so intent on offering a comprehensive alternative to Obamacare before the November midterm elections even as the law inched over the administration's goal of 7 million enrollees.
“I think a lot of people have been asking me why I am doing a budget,” Ryan volunteered as he kicked off a conference call with reporters to discuss his spending plan. “We believe it is not enough for us to just be an opposition party. We need to be a proposition party. We need to be the alternative party … As I see it, this is about leadership, this is about governing, this is about showing the country that there is a better way.”
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who is likely to replace Ryan as House Budget Committee chairman next year when the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee becomes chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, raised the issue of health care and GOP plans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.
“We repeal Obamacare and clear that space for patient-centered solutions,” said Price, who joined Ryan on the conference call.
Ryan’s budget sticks to the broad numbers agreed to in a bipartisan deal he reached with Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., late last year. But the $1.014 trillion proposal would repeal Obamacare and implement several conservative budget reforms to balance the federal books within 10 years. It also would spend significantly more on defense than Obama has called for, give states more flexibility to manage programs that aid the poor and overhaul Medicare for future retirees.
The blueprint doesn’t stand a chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, particularly in the heat of an election year. And publicizing the plan could open GOP members to political attacks. But for House Republicans, whether their budget passes has been irrelevant since they reclaimed the majority in 2011.
Rather, their goals are two-fold — to fight back against Obama’s argument that congressional Republicans are obstructionists with no ideas of their own, and to give themselves something to run on in the 2014 campaign.
Polling data has shown that voters are more likely to back Republican candidates in competitive races if the party offers solutions to the problems they are facing in their everyday lives. The survey data also has revealed that vowing to repeal Obamacare without offering an alternative heath care agenda could land like a thud on Election Day with voters who are otherwise skeptical of the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats will surely dispute that there is anything good for the middle class in the House Republican budget or in the GOP's forthcoming alternative health care agenda. They note that congressional Republicans oppose their proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and have been resistant to extending unemployment insurance to millions of long-term jobless. Both proposals are popular with the public, according to recent public opinion polls.
But Republicans maintain that their ideas for robust economic growth and job creation would benefit Americans more than these traditional Democratic proposals. First, however, they have to get across the notion that they have any ideas at all, and that's what their budget document and promise to offer an Obamacare alternative are all about.
“We’re good on the criticisms, and we’ve got a lot to criticize and we have a lot to complain about because we think the country’s headed in the wrong direction, and as a result we believe we ought to offer them a better way forward,” Ryan said. “We feel we have an obligation to do that.”