Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged Wednesday that his Medicare plan played a role in Republicans' defeat in Tuesday's special election, blaming "demagoguery" of his budget for the loss.
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, lashed out at Democrats, whom he said had distorted his 2012 budget proposal to their political benefit in the special election in New York's 26th congressional district.
Democrat Kathy Hochul scored an upset victory to succeed former Rep. Chris Lee (R) in the Republican-leaning seat. The race became something of a referendum on House Republicans' budget, including Ryan's controversial Medicare proposal, which would transform the entitlement program into a voucher-based system for Americans under the age of 55.
"I think that's a big part of it," Ryan said of the role Medicare played in the race. "Having the ability to scare seniors is powerful."
He also argued, as have many other Republicans, that GOP nominee Jane Corwin was the victim of a third-party candidate in the race, Democrat-turned-Tea-Party candidate Jack Davis, who took 8 percent of the vote.
Democrats have seized on the win and attributed it virtually entirely to the Medicare issue, framing the special-election victory as a rebuke of the Ryan plan and an indicator of good fortunes in their efforts to retake the House in 2012.
Still, Ryan said that House Republicans remain "very unified" behind the Medicare reforms, even amid the signs of political peril and rumblings of dissent within GOP ranks. He dismissed the notion that the plan would cost Republicans in 2012.
Ryan said later Wednesday at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation fiscal summit that Democratic campaign tactics show a lack of leadership on the deficit.
“We need leadership,” he told the audience in Washington. “We have not had that from our partners on the other side. We have yet to see an actual solution … you can’t have negotiations with just yourself.”
He said Obama has only put out a speech — rather than a scored budget — while the Democrats have so far, for the second straight year, failed to move a budget resolution.
He said Democrats' “Mediscare” tactics are a sign that 2012 campaign strategies are seeping into 2011 and that everyone is retreating to their corners instead of engaging on the debt.
He said he still hopes there can be a “down payment” on deficit reduction during talks about raising the debt ceiling. He also said he hopes the conversation can be “civil” rather than based on what he called Democratic distortions of his Medicare plan.
—This post was initially published at 8:41 a.m.
Erik Wasson contributed.