The budget put together by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) the head of the House Budget Committee and former vice-presidential candidate, has almost no chance of becoming law, because it’s full of controversial ideas to reduce the budget deficit like repealing the entire health care law and making sharp cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and Pell Grants.
Versions of this proposal have passed in the House the last three years but been rejected by the Democratically-controlled Senate. President Obama of course would never agree to repealing his signature health care law or these other cuts anyway.
But the fact that Republicans in the House are pushing this document again illustrates both their conservatism and their confidence. Ryan introduced this budget on the exact same day President Obama announced that 7 million people had enrolled in the new health care law. Far from being wary of taking away insurance some Americans got for the first time, the GOP boldly announced it would seek to eliminate that entire system.
Some Democrats believe that Republicans oppose “Obamacare” simply because the law is authored by a president whom they dislike. But at least among Republicans in the House, that is not the most important reason for their opposition. Ryan and many other House Republicans are more deeply and fundamentally opposed not just to Obamacare, but much of the way the current social safety net works in America. They believe too much money is devoted to low-income people, and it creates a culture of dependency.
For these Republicans, opposing Obamacare is much deeper than opposing Obama. They will fight its central tenets if Hillary Clinton or another Democrat succeeds the president. They will look to weaken, if not fully repeal the law, if a Republican is elected president in 2016.
Politically, the Republicans’ emphasis on spending cuts and repealing Obamacare, on first glance, would seem risky. Pell Grants are popular, as are some parts of Obamacare, like making sure people can stay on their parents’ health care plans until they are 26.
But right now, Republicans are rightly confident of their political prospects. Most of the key Senate races in the country are in conservative-leaning places in the South or West such as North Carolina, Montana, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky. In those states, blasting Obamacare will work, because the number of people newly-insured by the law is vastly outnumbered by conservative-leaning people who don’t like it or the president.
In Kentucky, for example, more than 300,000 people have obtained health insurance through the law. But in 2012, more than 1 million people in the state backed Mitt Romney.
Democratic prospects are even worse in the House, as some in the party privately concede that they have almost no chance of winning that chamber. In part because of gerrymandering, there are only a few dozen of the 435 districts that are truly competitive, and Democrats couldn’t win the House in 2012, even with a then-popular Obama at the top of the ticket and campaigning against the Ryan budget in some key races.
So right now, both the politics and their own policy views align with Republicans again advancing Ryan”s budget vision. Democrats will successfully block it, but it’s hard to imagine this debate will make it any easier for them to win the House or keep control of the Senate.