For GOP leaders, the year's budget season can't begin quickly enough.
With two days remaining before President Obama releases his 2013 spending blueprint, Republicans are already attacking based on what they predict the plan will contain.
Delivering the GOP's weekly radio address, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Saturday that Obama's budget will likely "raise taxes … ignore the growing entitlement crisis … [and] fail to address the $15 trillion, and growing, national debt."
“In short, we can expect that this will not be a proactive budget built to promote fiscal responsibility and future prosperity," McDonnell said. "Rather it appears we’ll see a bloated budget that doubles down on the failed policies of the past."
Republicans are hoping the pivot will highlight the ideological differences between the parties surrounding the role of government in building the economy – and that voters will side with them.
Since the start of the recession, Democrats have argued that a speedy recovery will require a proactive Congress. They've pushed for spending hikes on education, safety net and infrastructure programs to stabilize the economy. Republicans, on the other hand, contend the government has only impeded the recovery. They've sought to slash federal programs and eliminate regulations they say cripple the ability of businesses to hire new workers.
McDonnell on Saturday said the latter strategy is the better one.
"We know that when we limit government to free up capital, and reduce onerous regulations and litigation, we spur private sector job creation," he said. “In short, we believe the role of government in an economic recovery is simple: At every level, governments should pass budgets on time that fund core functions like education, transportation, and public safety well, and don’t waste precious taxpayer dollars."
McDonnell conceded that Republicans "don’t know the specifics" of Obama's plan, but the president's policy record lets them "reasonably predict" what he'll propose.
As part of the Republicans' messaging strategy, GOP leaders have recently amplified their attacks on Senate Democrats for deciding not to bring a budget of their own to the floor – a decision McDonnell characterized this weekend as "an astounding failure of leadership and management of the nation’s finances."
By contrast, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has vowed to unveil a Republican alternative to Obama's budget this spring.
Democrats have been quick to push back against the Republican's budget attacks. Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said the GOP criticism of Senate Democrats is merely an attempt "to dissemble and distract the attention on the lack of productive accomplishment in the House."
"The fact is that you don't need a budget," Hoyer, a former appropriator, said Tuesday during a press briefing in the Capitol. "We can adopt appropriation bills and we can adopt authorization policies without a budget. We already have an agreed upon cap on spending."
The Democrats are equally as confident the budget debate will work in their political favor. They're quick to note the public outcry that accompanied Ryan's 2012 budget bill, which proposed sharp cuts to Medicare benefits and privatized the program for future beneficiaries. GOP leaders have said they won't retreat from that strategy this year, although Ryan has floated the idea that his new budget might keep traditional Medicare as an option – a plan he drafted with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
"The strategy is to get out of their way and let them do it again," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said last month on the GOP's Medicare strategy. "There is overwhelming rejection of the abolition of the Medicare guarantee, and if they choose to identify themselves with it again, we're going to identify ourselves with Medicare."
McDonnell on Saturday went out of his way not to mention Ryan's budgets, either past or future. Instead he sought to emphasize the distinction between the federal budget, as managed by Democrats, and state budgets under GOP governors like himself.
"Republican leaders in our state capitals are creating … opportunities for success and they are getting results," he said. “Now, we need that kind of leadership in the U.S. Senate and the White House."