Budget Showdown Ahead
The Democrats have tapped one of their rising stars, Chris Van Hollen, to oppose Paul Ryan and his “Roadmap for America’s Future.”


Andrew Stiles

The two are familiar with each other from their work together on the Ways and Means Committee, and have already had a number of heated back-and-forths — among other things, over health-care reform in the run-up to the bill’s passage last spring, and over Ryan’s “Roadmap,” which Van Hollen has criticized as a “dead end” because of its approach to entitlement programs. Ryan dismissed Van Hollen’s remarks as “irresponsible scare tactics” and responded by calling for an “adult conversation” about the future of entitlement spending.

Ryan’s plan became a hot-button issue during the midterms, largely at Van Hollen’s behest. The DCCC under his leadership made a point of going after Republican candidates who spoke so much as a positive word about Ryan or his plan. For instance, the DCCC opened its midterm television blitz with an ad in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, targeting Republican Sean Duffy, who went on to win the seat held by retiring Appropriations Committee chairman Dave Obey (D.). The ad accused Duffy of wanting to privatize Social Security and slash Medicare, citing as evidence his support for Ryan’s “Roadmap.” As PolitiFact Wisconsin pointed out, the ad’s claims are completely false. But they are also indicative of the tenor of Democratic attacks on Ryan and his plan, at least during the campaign, and could foreshadow a nasty political showdown over issues like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, spending and deficit reduction, tax policy, health-care reform, and much more.

Van Hollen has to hope he is more successful in his new role than he was as chairman of the DCCC. Ryan, who enjoyed a good working relationship with John Spratt, anticipates “spirited debates” with Van Hollen, but is looking forward to the challenge, an aide says. A Van Hollen adviser recently told the Huffington Post that his boss feels the same way, and relishes a leading role in the “central fight” of the new GOP-majority House.

If Van Hollen intends to mount a defense of Obama/Pelosi economics, then a fight is what he’ll get. Ryan has made clear that he intends to promote a bold budget proposal in the spirit of his “Roadmap” to seriously address the nation’s fiscal problems. Ryan and Van Hollen will both have their work cut out for them.

— Andrew Stiles is a 2010 Franklin fellow.