The White House on Tuesday panned the release of the Republican budget plan, a departure from recent efforts by President Obama to make inroads with conservatives on Capitol Hill for a bipartisan deficit deal.
Administration officials had a clear goal: Framing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's budget blueprint as a handout to the wealthy at the expense of everybody else.
The GOP budget calls for the elimination of Obamacare and a balanced budget within 10 years. It also calls for an overhaul of the tax code, recommending just two tax rates, a top rate of 25 percent while setting the other rate at 10 percent.
"We're not gonna balance the budget in 10 years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare, you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid, you've essentially got to either tax middle class families a lot higher than you currently are or you can't lower rates the way he's promised," the president told ABC News in an interview Tuesday.
It was similar rhetoric to that used by Obama on the campaign trail -- and administration officials invoked the name of Mitt Romney repeatedly Tuesday in attempting to attach the new budget blueprint to the vanquished presidential candidate.
But even some Democrats questioned that strategy.
"I don't think the White House should view the Ryan budget as a gift," Democratic strategist Keir Murray cautioned. "It might not be useful to trash it right out of the gate. They're caught in between a rock and a hard place with their own caucus and Republicans and the president has to proceed carefully."
Added GOP strategist Patrick Griffin, "It's not the easiest way to forge a path forward on a grand bargain, especially when the president's budget hasn't even showed up yet."
Democratic lawmakers are eager to use the Ryan budget against vulnerable Republicans, accusing them of gutting programs like Medicare in an attempt to balance the budget. Ryan's proposal would revamp Medicare by giving those under 55 a government subsidy to buy health insurance on the open market.
But the GOP plan also magnifies an inconvenient reality for the White House: They don't have their own budget. And though he called for a "balanced approach" on Tuesday -- meaning a combination of tax increases and trims to entitlement programs -- Jay Carney, Obama's spokesman, conceded the White House budget to be released in early April would not balance revenues with spending.
"It's understandable that the president would be embarrassed to release a budget that never balances, but there is no excuse for this unprecedented delay and failure of leadership," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
With a Democratic Senate, Ryan's blueprint is dead on arrival. And the Democratic budget to be released Wednesday, which calls for nearly a trillion dollars in higher taxes and few cuts to entitlement programs, has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.
The end game for the White House is positioning itself favorably ahead of the real negotiations with congressional leadership, a task some said was aided by using Ryan as a foil.
"Democrats don't think [entitlements] are a problem -- and another budget from Paul Ryan isn't going to change that," Lincoln Mitchell, of Columbia University's Harriman Institute, said. "The White House feels like it's a good conversation for them, an argument they'll keep winning."