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Democrats Offer Strong Pushback to Ryan Budget… Except for MIA President

Democrats are in general coming together on their criticism of the Ryan Medicare Phase-Out budget. I heard both Nancy Pelosi and Sherrod Brown on conference calls today, and they were pretty effective. Brown in particular made it clear: every time Republicans get a slice of power since 1964, they try to cut or eliminate the safety net. In 1996, Newt Gingrich’s budget sought to use medical savings accounts to make Medicare wither on the vine. In 2005, Republicans tried to privatize Social Security. And here they are, back again. They are ideologically opposed to the programs.

And I think Congressional Democrats have basically established message discipline on that point. Like in 2005, online wonks made quick work of the GOP numbers, in this case the ridiculous fantasy employment scenario Ryan used to buttress his claims, to the extent that even the Heritage Foundation walked it back. Like in 2005, they are tuning out the very serious people in Washington and directly challenging the alleged courage of the Ryan plan. Like in 2005, the stakeholders are quickly abandoning the Republican position. Like in 2005, Republican rank and file lawmakers are joining them.

There’s only one entity not joining this block party. Unfortunately, he happens to be the President of the United States.

The President believes that dramatically reducing America’s long-term deficit is essential to growing our economy and winning the future. Today, Congressman Ryan laid out his vision for how to do that, and he is right that we cannot solve our fiscal challenge by focusing on the narrow slice of domestic spending that has occupied so much of our recent attention. But while we agree with his ultimate goal, we strongly disagree with his approach. Any plan to reduce our deficit must reflect the American values of fairness and shared sacrifice. Congressman Ryan’s plan fails this test. It cuts taxes for millionaires and special interests while placing a greater burden on seniors who depend on Medicare or live in nursing homes, families struggling with a child who has serious disabilities, workers who have lost their health care coverage, and students and their families who rely on Pell grants. The President believes there is a more balanced way to put America on a path to prosperity. But despite our differences, all of us – Democrats and Republicans – have an obligation to find common ground in a way that is true to our values and meets our responsibilities to the American people.

This is an extremely weak response, tempered at the end with this appeal to common ground. That’s pretty much the Obama MO at this point, so it’s not surprising. But I think it’s pretty clear that the President wants Ryan in his back pocket so he can usher in some grand compromise. The politics of this are perfect for the Democrats to once again reveal the Republican vision for America in all its ugliness. But that’s not the politics the current leader of the party favors. And it’s the biggest obstacle going right now.

Robert Reich offers the competing vision:

That’s why it’s so important that the President have something more to say to the American people than “I want to cut spending, too, but the Republican cuts go too far.” The “going too far” argument is no match for a worldview that says government is the central problem to begin with.

Obama must show America that the basic choice is between two fundamental views of this nation. Either we’re all in this together, or we’re a bunch of individuals who happen to live within these borders and are mainly on their own.

This has been the basic choice all along — when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, in the Civil War, when we went through World War I and World War II and the Great Depression in between, during the Civil Rights movement and beyond.

The problem is that such a vision competes with the vision coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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David Dayen

David Dayen