Dems see campaign gold in Ryan budget

 

House Democratic leaders bashing Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) latest budget bill have at least one good thing to say about the sweeping plan: It could help them at the polls in November.

Democrats have been focused on a populist economic agenda that includes an increase in the minimum wage, an extension of emergency jobless benefits and a broad expansion of health insurance coverage included in the Affordable Care Act. 

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They're hoping the Ryan plan — which slashes spending on food stamps, low-income education initiatives and Medicaid, among a long list of domestic programs — plays right into their messaging strategy.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said Democrats see the budget as a particularly damaging issue for Republicans because it “tightens the noose" around the necks of the middle class.

“They should’ve just printed a middle finger to the middle class on page one of this budget,” he told reporters during a Wednesday press conference at the National Press Club. “This will be the defining issue in the midterm elections." 

The Democrats have tried the same strategy of attacking the GOP's budget in the past, with mixed results. In 2010, for instance, they hammered a similar Ryan proposal for much the same reasons they're now attacking the 2015 version, only to lose 63 seats and the House gavel.

They had more luck with that strategy in the 2012 presidential cycle, picking up eight House seats and using it to their advantage in special elections. They still fell short of winning back the chamber but won more seats than pundits anticipated heading to the polls.

But Democrats face a much tougher climate this cycle and a steep uphill battle to flip the 17 seats they need to take back the House. Israel admitted “it's a tough climate for us” at this point but said the Ryan budget “helps change the narrative by reminding voters who has their backs."

To drive the issue home, the DCCC is launching an offensive effort called "Battleground Middle Class,” which will include robocalls in 76 districts, online advertisements and field effort investments. The DCCC unveiled their first round of Web ads as part of the new initiative on Wednesday, featuring an ominous-looking shot of a cloud-covered Capitol with the text, “Tell Congressman Coffman: Don’t sell out the middle class.” 

The ads direct viewers to TheRepublicanBudget.com, which currently features a Web video themed around the popular television show “Scandal” that knocks the budget and will be updated with further details on the blueprint.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, echoed the DCCC's message Wednesday. He hammered the Ryan plan for cutting $125 billion in food stamp spending over the next decade.

"Clearly, they're showing … what their vision of America [is] and who it's for," he said. "It's for the wealthiest in the country, with disregard to the least amongst us."

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) piled on, arguing that Ryan's budget "is an outgrowth of the same extremism" that led to the government shutdown of last October. Democrats, he said, are eager to use the document to attack Republicans on the campaign trail.

"We all look forward to drawing a clear contrast," said Jeffries, a member of the Budget panel.

Ryan has acknowledged his proposal, which aims to eliminate deficit spending largely by cutting $5.1 trillion in spending over a decade, opens the GOP up to Democratic attacks. But on Tuesday, he defended his decision to release the plan, arguing that "it is not enough for us to just be an opposition party." 

"We need to be a proposition party,” he told reporters.

Ryan's Budget Committee is marking up the budget proposal Wednesday, with a floor vote expected next week, before Congress leaves Washington for an extended spring recess.

It remains unclear, however, if the bill will pass through the lower chamber, as some conservative Republicans, prodded by Tea Party groups, are criticizing the plan for adhering to top-line 2015 numbers established by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in December. 

More than 60 Republicans voted against that plan at the time, leaving GOP leaders with the difficult task of changing minds ahead of next week's budget vote.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that Republicans will have enough votes to pass the measure.