Original Link: http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=118B83C7-A435-46BC-8D5E-5B3F52C5A2A2
Ryan budget was a political disaster last year for Republicans. This year
the GOP had a much more methodical, careful rollout.
The party polled on Medicare in 50 battleground districts. It vetted the plan
with a dozen conservative groups. It reached out to rank-and-file lawmakers and
asked them what they needed to support the sweeping conservative spending plan.
Ryan briefed the Republican presidential candidates and won a quick public
endorsement of the plan from Mitt Romney.
And perhaps most important, the GOP learned how to use the right poll-tested
(Also in POLITICO: Paul Ryan: Budget plan a choice in ‘two
On the day before the budget rollout, top Republicans gathered in Speaker
John Boehner’s smoky Capitol conference room with National Republican
Congressional Committee officials and went over key phrases. Call the Medicare
reform “bipartisan,” they were told. Frame it as helping to “fix Medicare and
keep it from going bankrupt.” Be sure to point out that Americans 55 or older
would not be affected. And say it gives seniors the choice of “staying in the
current Medicare system or using the new one.”
Using this phrasing, 46 percent in an internal GOP poll — conducted in
January — would support the Republican argument that Medicare is going bankrupt,
Republicans were giving them a choice and the GOP is trying to preserve the
program. The Democratic argument that Republicans were ending Medicare
registered at 37 percent.
The precise, strategic sales job of the Ryan budget is a far cry from last
year’s clunky rollout, and a sign that Republicans have learned some lessons in
political strategy on the divisive issues underlying the Ryan vision.
Last year, they were blindsided by the
backlash to the Wisconsin Republican’s plan. It was immediately framed by
Democrats as ending Medicare, crushing Medicaid while keeping taxes low for the
rich. Ryan, who was being pitched as a presidential prospect for the party,
receded as his plan came under attack from all sides.
The 2012 plan is — simply put — to not talk about the
plan too much.
Ryan and Republicans no longer talk about their plan as a stand-alone. They
frame it as a contrast with President Barack Obama’s health care law, which they
believe cuts $500 billion from Medicare. The presence of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
as a co-author of Ryan’s Medicare overhaul gives them bipartisan cover.
GOP leaders are suggesting members use props. In a presentation, the NRCC
said members should try to “inoculate” themselves in a campaign season by using
“credible third-party validators (mom or seniors),” according to a party
Above all, the Ryan budget rollout was designed to conform to a new political
reality for Republicans: Changing entitlements is difficult, not popular but
necessary. And even the true believers — like Ryan himself — need to build
coalitions when they pitch big ideas.
To ensure the plan landed well nationally, Ryan personally reached out to
presidential candidates to brief them on it. Romney endorsed the plan this
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) joined with the Budget Committee,
Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to work over members to
fit their needs on the budget. Deeper cuts to spending? Done. Replace automatic
cuts to the Pentagon? Sure.
McCarthy’s team also reached out to more than a dozen outside groups to hear
what they want to see in the budget — and then let them know where the committee
was heading. Groups ranged from monied Republicans like Crossroads, American
Action Network and FreedomWorks, to tea party groups such as Americans for
Prosperity and American Conservative Union, to Washington establishments like
Americans for Tax Reform, the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, the American
One of the few criticisms came from the Club for Growth, but that group seems
to be more the exception than the rule.
The Club for Growth Wednesday said Ryan’s budget “falls short” because it
doesn’t balance the budget “for decades” and it violates the spending caps
agreed to by the House and Senate.
“On balance, the Ryan budget is a disappointment for fiscal conservatives,”
said former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), now the president of Club for
It remains to be seen whether the methodical work Republicans have gone
through will pay dividends. They lost a House race in upstate New York after
passing Ryan’s budget in 2011.
And Democrats still think the Ryan budget is an election-year gift that will
allow them to portray Republicans as killing Medicare, cutting taxes for the
rich and slashing programs that help the poor. Democrats are also expected to
hit Republicans for violating an agreement on spending caps and changing
But Republicans expect the carping from the left. They believe that if the
upstate New York race last year was a low point for the GOP, a race in Nevada
last fall was a dry run for how to frame 2012 races around the budget.
In that race, Republican Mark Amodei faced Democrat Kate Marshall in a
solidly Republican district. But among seniors, he was getting badly beaten.
Amodei gave up talking about the particulars of the Ryan budget. He started
saying the status quo was unsustainable. He tagged Marshall as supporting
Obama’s health care bill, which he said cut from Medicare. When talking about
the Republican plan, he said it would “save and protect” the senior health care
Amodei sent out direct mail that branded him as the “the one candidate
working to protect Medicare.” They enlisted his mother to star in an
advertisement vouching he would protect the program.
The contrast worked.
At the beginning of the race — just a few months after Ryan’s first budget
passed — 39 percent of voters thought Marshall would better “protect seniors on
Medicare.” Just 26 percent thought Amodei was up for that job. By the end of the
race, that number jumped to 41 percent, and Marshall’s dropped to 33. And,
Amodei’s favorable ratings with voters older than 65 nearly doubled.
He is now a member of Congress.
“Here’s what I’m real comfortable telling people,” Amodei said in an
interview in Washington on Wednesday. “I’ll tell you the truth about your
program, and I’ll fight to save it, but in order to tell you the truth and to
fight to save it, you can’t continue to do nothing. Can you fix it all in a
year? Absolutely not. Can you fix it in five years? No you can’t. But you better