His budget plan under a spotlight, Ryan's political stock takes hit

Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money MORE’s political stock has taken a hit in recent weeks as his constituents, Democrats and even some Republicans have ripped his controversial budget blueprint.

Earlier this year, Ryan (R-Wis.) said he knew the GOP was leading with its chin by releasing such an aggressive budget-cutting plan. Now Ryan and his colleagues are facing questions about whether they can take a punch, or if they have a glass jaw. 

It’s been a pressure-packed spring for the 41-year-old Ryan, who has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial, Senate and presidential candidate. 

Some of his own constituents questioned Ryan’s budget plan at a town hall meeting last month, even jeering him at times in a video that quickly spread on the Internet. President Obama won Ryan’s district in 2008. 

Senate Republicans this week opted not to follow Ryan’s lead and instead have floated a plan that would not overhaul Medicare. 

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying World Freedom Caucus wants budget reforms attached to debt limit increase Trey Gowdy announces retirement from Congress MORE (R-Ohio) on Monday publicly defended Ryan’s plan, which passed the House in April with only four defections. 

But House GOP leadership has no plans to translate the Medicare provisions into authorizing legislation and move such a bill through the lower chamber.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) last week said, “I’m not really interested in just laying down more markers.”

Many presidential candidates initially lauded Ryan’s budget. However, the friendly tone from the campaign trail has also turned a bit sour. 

Possible GOP presidential contender Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTillerson: Russia already looking to interfere in 2018 midterms Dems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Speier on Trump's desire for military parade: 'We have a Napoleon in the making' MORE, speaking in New Hampshire on Wednesday, blamed Ryan’s budget proposal — in particular its Medicare provisions — for dragging down GOP candidate Jane Corwin in the May 24 special election to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.).

“A very popular Republican woman is running for the office. She was expected to win easily,” Trump said. “She’s having a hard time defending that whole situation with Medicare.

“Too early, too soon. There was no reason for [Ryan] to do it,” he later said. 

“The Republicans have elections to win. The Democrats, you talk about demagogue, are doing a number on that plan unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Trump added.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) initially praised Ryan’s plan, but put out his own budget plan that departs from Ryan’s blueprint on entitlement spending. Ryan subsequently criticized Pawlenty’s proposal.

Ryan’s aggressive budget seeking $5.8 trillion in cuts helped BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying World Freedom Caucus wants budget reforms attached to debt limit increase Trey Gowdy announces retirement from Congress MORE and his lieutenants in the government-shutdown talks as they sought votes in the Republican Conference. Republican leadership officials urged GOP lawmakers to pass the fiscal 2011 compromise that sought billions in cuts so they could move forward and focus on cutting trillions in fiscal 2012. The strategy worked, as most Republicans fell in line.

Yet after some GOP members got an earful from constituents about the House-passed budget, it’s uncertain whether the Ryan plan will be a political asset or liability in the 2012 elections.

Former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) defended his colleague’s proposal and called Trump’s assertion “B.S.” 

“To try to draw national conclusions out of a three-way race with a self-funding millionaire who’s calling himself a Tea Party candidate is laughable, with all due respect to Mr. Trump. This is a case where he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about politically — the main factor there is Jack Davis, not the Ryan budget,” Cole said.

The self-funded Davis, who is now running on the Tea Party ticket, ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in 2004, 2006 and 2008. 

Ryan on Wednesday said fellow GOP lawmakers have “not backed away” from his proposal at all.

The seven-term legislator also told The Hill that he expected a more vociferous backlash than what he heard during his 19 town-hall meetings last month. 

“My town halls were 80-20 in my favor. What I didn’t expect was the amount of favorable response I got,” Ryan said. 

“[Medicare is] a huge issue, it’s a big program — 40 million people count on it. It’s gone better than I thought because I know the demagoguery is severe. There is nobody backing away from this and we’re pressing forward with it,” Ryan added. 

How far it goes appears limited, though Ryan has repeatedly said he is interested in finding common ground with Democrats.

A GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity said Ryan’s budget is a “political document” that has little chance of becoming law. 

Pressed on Camp’s statements last week, Ryan, a member of the Ways and Means panel, explained that Camp can’t move his reform plan because of “process.” 

He added, “If the Democrats aren’t doing a budget, then there’s no reconciliation — you can’t do entitlement reform without reconciliation — and if they are going to stop it, then the process stops because the Senate hasn’t done anything.

“We’re going to do hearings, we’ve got to highlight the fact that Medicare is going bankrupt, but if the Democrats don’t pass a budget in the Senate, it’s hard to see the budget process advancing,” Ryan said. 

Senate conservatives say they will vote for Ryan’s budget if and when it comes to a vote. But they have created the impression of distancing themselves from it by not introducing a companion measure. 

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) speculated that Senate GOP leaders have grown wary of Ryan’s plan. 

“I guess the pushback on some organized town meetings that were targeted at some of our vulnerable guys scared them, and leaders don’t want to lose the vulnerable seats. Look, we were elected to make tough choices,” Pitts told The Hill. 

Still, Ryan insists that his budget is the GOP’s starting point for negotiations on the thorny debt-ceiling issue. 

“What we’re bringing to the table is our budget, and that is our starting position for our negotiation … and we’ve got [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor [R-Va.] and [Senate Minority Whip Jon] Kyl [R-Ariz.] over there trying to negotiate from that,” Ryan said. 

Regardless of the political ramifications, Ryan says that Republicans shouldn’t back away from the fight. 

Asked how Republicans should tackle the politically sensitive issue, Ryan was resolute: “Here’s how you don’t do it: You don’t fail to try. The last thing we should do for our country is to walk away from this because of political intimidation.”

The special election in New York is already being called a referendum on Ryan’s plan. 

Rutgers professor Ross Baker said that Corwin, the GOP candidate in the race, has “embraced” Ryan’s proposal.

“If you believe in responsible party government and members of Congress supporting their party leadership, it’s a courageous act, but it’s also kind of a kamikaze attack. You’re putting your career on the line for something, which is an example of people voting on the basis of principle. Those kinds of votes can be very dangerous.”

But Baker added that it remains to be seen whether a GOP loss in the special election would harm Ryan’s image and political future.

“We’re not really going to know what the effect is until after the 2012 elections, because a special election is not much of a straw in the wind,” Baker said.