It seems like lunacy for the Republicans to run in 2012 on Paul Ryan’s budget, a plan that would, in the words of Nancy Pelosi’s communications director, end Medicare as we know it. Suzy Khimm, Ezra Klein and others are raising the possibility that despite looking like lunacy on the surface, that it may be a trap to wrest from Democrats concessions on funding the Affordable Care Act that will sabotage its cost-control provisions, thus rendering the entire plan useless. Some are also speculating that the Republicans are trying to get Democrats talking about health care, which was supposedly the main reason why Democrats lost so many races in 2010 (even though it wasn’t).
Maybe it’s intended as some trap, but the causes behind Ryan’s plan appearing to become the de-facto Republican plan are probably simpler yet more numerous. Plenty of people like to allege the Obama administration out-thinks itself by trying to play eleven-dimensional chess. Well, it seems to me that there’s a propensity of many pundits and people who watch Congressional wrangling to see more coherent strategies behind political actions than actually exist. It’s more likely Ryan’s plan is out there for some combination of the following reasons:
- Ryan’s an ideologue, and he honestly believes what he’s saying
- Boehner has little or no control over his caucus, so when an ambitious committee chair decides he’s going to pursue his fixation–especially since his budget-slashing impulses, regardless of the political/electoral damage they could do, are shared by the majority of the Republican caucus, especially among the freshman–Boehner is powerless to stop it, even though it may be political suicide.
- For those Republicans who do sign on to it, it’s because of their coarse budgetary beliefs that less is more in everything except sops to corporations, the extremely rich or their political patrons (including constituencies waging the social and cultural wars), and out of fear of the teapartier base that likes round numbers and the notion that something will be cut, but not something that matters to them.
- To convince themselves that it makes sense electorally, Republicans can try to reassure themselves that they can effectively communicate to those already on Medicare that it won’t effect them, that it will only effect younger people not currently on it. People already on Medicare make up a big share of the GOP primary electorate and an increasing share of the overall GOP general election base, so that part is tricky. But for younger voters the risk to the GOP is minimal; voters under 40 regularly confuse Medicare and Medicaid, and if they recognize one isn’t “welfare” then they probably believe, like unfortunately too many do about Social Security, that it won’t be there for them when they’re ready to retire. But maybe they can cut down on their margins with those in their 30’s and 40’s who can be conned on the austerity talk.
- The media includes a ton of gullible morons who will tout Ryan as “serious” with a “serious plan to reign in the unsustainable growth of yada yada yada I can’t wait to get to Sally Quinn’s party” bullshit for the oh-so-important “narrative” that supposedly controls the world.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. And yeah, sure, it’s possible that enough bed-wetting Democrats on the Hill could be lured in to joining the Republicans in “getting tough” on spending. But ultimately the White House won’t agree to what Ryan’s proposing, and even though they haven’t been talking tough on preventing cuts to entitlements, they’ve been completely consistent in talking tough on preventing privatization of Social Security. It’s hard to see them do that but then agree with Ryan on Medicare. It’s also hard to see Ryan and the teapartiers compromising much in the absence of a major ass-kicking. Thus, I continue to believe a shut-down is likely. And in a government shutdown, Obama could role the Republicans by casting the choice as one of siding with him or agreeing to privatize Social Security and Medicare. That’s a battle Obama would win.
Whether the Republicans really believe any of Ryan’s crap, or are ready to own it, will be clearer once there are Republicans actually running for President. When there are, whack jobs like Michele Bachmann may back Ryan’s plan because they’re whack jobs. (But who knows, she did step all over him by doing her own response to the SOTU while he was doing his.) But if one of the “mainstream” candidates like Romney or Pawlenty associate with Ryan’s plan, we know that the tea party has fully taken over the brains of any Republicans who care about winning in 2012, and that the Republican party has conceded the election to Barack Obama.