The Corner

Defending Ryan’s Budget: So Far, So Not That Bad?

House Republican leaders held a member conference call Tuesday afternoon to assess and answer questions about the ongoing effort to sell Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget resolution — adopted by the House on April 15 — to their respective constituencies. Lawmakers on the call, who said the vast majority of the budget-related questions (they also discussed the debt ceiling) were about Medicare reform — gave mixed reviews regarding how the debate is shaping up. “I think there’s been a real positive reaction to the budget,” freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga (R., Mich.) tells NRO. “Of course, when people hear all of that old Washington rhetoric that’s mean to scare people, there’s a certain element who buy into it.”

And despite several reports of some unruly town hall meetings (See: here, here and here), and a few eye-opening polls, there seems to be a general sense of “Where’s the outrage?” — especially when the events of the past week are compared to the town hall frenzy that erupted during the height of the debate over health care reform.

For some, it’s simply a matter of combating the Democratic spin and scare tactics that Republicans have long been expecting. “I’ve had some of my constituents tell me: “I’m 60-70 years old, what am I going to do without Medicare?” Huizenga says. “And they’re relieved when I tell them the changes in the budget don’t affect them, but that’s just one example of a basic misconception out there that we need to correct.” The Medicare reforms included in Ryan’s budget would not apply to anyone over the age of 55, a fact that Democrats conveniently omit in their attacks.

Several House Republicans, however, tell NRO on background that some members feel like they were “thrown to the wolves” without sufficient preparation for the questions they’ve been facing back in their districts. The budget was adopted on a Friday afternoon before a two-week recess, they point out, and members were handed a sheet of talking points to take with them before they went home. “There’s only one Paul Ryan,” one says. “And it’s not that the budget isn’t a great plan, but there’s just so much in there that a lot of us haven’t been able to digest to the point where we can defend it as eloquently as he does.”

But despite the “politically volatile” nature of the some of the reforms Republicans have chosen to adopt, there are a growing number of indications that they ought to be reasonably confident in their ability to win the messaging war. A USA TODAY/Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 48 percent of Americans want to solve the deficit problem either entirely or mostly with spending cuts (the Republican plan), compared to 11 percent who prefer mostly tax increases (the Obama “plan”).

Greg Sargent looks at some of the additional findings in that same poll in an attempt to answer a questions that apparently been nagging liberals: Why do some Democrats, specifically President Obama, insist on acknowledging reality by even suggesting that entitlement reform is essential to bringing the deficit under control?

As it turns out, it could be because voters are actually far more intelligent (and less susceptible to partisan demagoguery) than most Democrats had hoped. The poll asks:

How long do you think it will be until the costs of the Medicare and Social Security programs create a crisis for the federal government — are they already creating a crisis, will they create a crisis within the next 10 years, within 10 to 20 years, in more than 20 years, or not for the foreseeable future?

And here’s how respondents answered:

  • Already creating a crisis: 34 percent

  • Within the next 10 years: 33 percent

  • Within 10 to 20 years: 19 percent

  • Within more than 20 years: 4 percent

  • Not for the foreseeable future: 7 percent

So, a full two-thirds of Americans (accurately) believe that entitlement spending at current levels will create a crisis for the federal government within the next decade, while only 7 percent agree with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Not a bad starting point.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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