Dems seize on Ryan’s budget, Boehner’s Wall Street fundraising

House Democrats have seized on Republican proposals to change entitlement programs and attempts to court Wall Street money, hoping to score political points for their own ideas.

Late last week, House Democratic leaders began a full-blown offensive against a proposal put forward by the Budget Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

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Ryan’s budget plan outlined a combination of tax cuts, Medicare vouchers for Americans under 55, and an option for people under 55 to invest a portion of their Social Security in private, individual accounts.

Democrats also blasted a Feb. 4 Wall Street Journal article that noted House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) met privately with a Wall Street executive who is also a Democratic contributor.

The article cited anonymous sources that said Boehner told James Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan, that Republicans had stood up to President Barack Obama’s attempts to rein in the financial industry and expressed disappointment that Wall Street continued to donate money to Democratic campaigns.

Democratic aides circulated press releases about Boehner’s reported meeting with the executive, and one aide said those releases were just the beginning of a looming assault on that front, as well.

Leading House Democrats, who have spent months enduring growing disapproval ratings, believe Republicans made a misstep in covertly courting Wall Street in the current economic climate.

Democrats are also hoping the idea of letting Americans steer Social Security benefits to the stock market - an idea that backfired against President George W. Bush in 2005 - will again prove to be a liability. And Ryan proposed Medicare vouchers for Americans under 55. Democrats say that proposal is icing on the cake.

“Do you have any idea how much positive reaction I’ll get when I go home and tell my seniors that the Republican grand plan on the economy is to take away their Medicare and Social Security benefits?” crowed one Democrat, almost bewilderedly.  “This is a gift.  This is going to do so much to undo a lot the backlash we’ve been getting for months.”

Ryan expressed disappointment that his attempt to provide ideas for a “constructive debate about solutions” has led to partisan attacks.

"As one Member of the Minority party in the House of Representatives, I have offered a plan that puts the budget and economy on a sustainable path, according to the Congressional Budget Office," Ryan said in a statement.  "It was my hope that it would lead to a constructive debate about solutions – not partisan attacks and false claims – to a problem America must address.” 

At his weekly news conference, Boehner stressed that Ryan’s budget is not the party’s proposal. His spokesman repeated that point on Friday, while expressing disappointment with Democratic attempts to make political hay out of criticizing the proposal.

“This is sad and pathetic," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.  "At a time when Washington Democrats control the House, Senate and the White House, rather than working on the problems of the American people, they're holding blogger calls and conference calls to attack a bill introduced by one member of the minority party."

When asked about the meeting with the Wall Street executive, Steel said, "Our priority is trying to protect small businesses who are trying to save money and save jobs."

Democratic leaders wasted no time trying to linking Ryan’s plan with the entire GOP platform. They arranged a Thursday conference call to hammer the budget alternative as a rehash of ideas that soured so many voters ahead of the Democrat’s retaking of Congress in 2006.

“Republicans say they are not the ‘party of no,’ and that they’ve got ideas,” Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) said on Thursday’s call.  “Well in the last week we’ve gotten a pretty good look at those ideas.  They are dusting off their old playbook.  They want to privatize Social Security [and] they want to turn Medicare into a voucher program.”

Democratic aides hinted that, regardless of whether or not Ryan’s budget is adopted by the House Republican Conference, they will continue to churn out a message that his ideas are what the entire GOP stands for.

A Democrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that Democrats would be playing the “fear card” in attacking Ryan’s budget outline so severely, and preying especially on seniors.  But that member added that it was nothing other than the politics of fear that Republicans used so well to turn so much of the public against the Democratic healthcare reform plan.

“They’ve given us a great opportunity with their budget,” this member said. “And we’re in survival mode.”