TIME

House Democrats Plan Pre-Emptive Strike on Ryan Budget

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has told members that he plans a full House vote on the measure, despite iffy support from conservatives in the caucus. Democrats, meanwhile, smell an opportunity

House Democrats are planning a big push on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget, before it’s even been revealed.

“This Ryan budget will be like all the others: a giveaway to special interests and socking it to the middle class,” Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, tells TIME. “This is a defining issue in this campaign and we’re going to use all the tools in our tool box to demonstrate to voters that House Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich and raise taxes for the middle class.”

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has said he plans to introduce his budget to the House in April. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Friday in a letter to members that he plans a full House vote on the measure, despite the fact that it starts with a baseline that is $18 billion higher than the 2011 budget deal. The cuts were restored in Ryan’s compromise bill with Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, drawing 62 House GOP nay votes in a December vote because of the increased spending.

Those 62 votes could bring down Ryan’s budget next month as Democrats are unlikely to vote for a bill which in years past has included drastic cuts to entitlements. Cantor said in his letter that Ryan’s budget would balance the budget within 10 years. “You’re going to have conservatives who thinks that [the baseline spending] number is too high,” says John Feehery, a Republican consultant. “No Democrats are going to vote for it. It obviously is a tough spot for Ryan. Given that the Senate isn’t passing a budget, a lot of people will go: what’s the point?”

Democrats are gleefully anticipating the vote, which they see as a political opportunity in the fall. “In 2012, we definitively showed the contrast between Democrats and Republicans on the Ryan budget and we won eight seats,” Israel says. “Particularly in suburbs and exurbs, people of the middle class are going to watch their taxes go up while special interests will watch their taxes go down. This plays into every swing district and middle class suburb in the country.”

Israel declined to say how many seats he thought Democrats could gain on the issue. They need 17 seats to retake the House, a tough order in a climate where they are leading in generic polling match-ups by just 1.4%, according to a Real Clear Politics average of recent polls. Only one GOP seat currently leans Democratic. Another three are tossups and 16 lean Republican, according to Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races.

In 2012, Democrats ran hundreds of advertisements on the Ryan budget and a similar push is expected this cycle, Israel says. Ryan was the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee. Already on Monday morning, the DCCC sent out press releases to 60 GOP districts and Israel says they have a blitz of paid media on television and radio as well as online planned.

Budgets have often been controversial documents. President George W. Bush limited his to five-year outlays, rather than the traditional 10, in order to mask the long-term costs of his two wars, amongst other policies. Senate Democrats refused to produce a budget for four years, protecting Obamacare and their vulnerable members from tough votes. This year Dems again won’t produce a budget, citing Murray’s two-year deal with Ryan last December.

“Taking a pass on fiscal responsibility for political gain simply isn’t in the Republicans’ DNA,” says Ron Bonjean, another GOP strategist. “They have a brand of producing forward leaning budgets for years and know how to deflect the customary Democratic attacks over Medicare and Social Security. Choosing not to pass a budget would weaken their fiscally responsible brand and cause a political identity crisis.”

That said, the challenge remains getting everyone on the same page. “Should the House GOP goes forward with a budget, then they must have the votes to pass it,” Bonjean continued. “Failure to do so will cause internal divisions and hand Democrats plenty of ammunition to use against them for looking politically weak.”

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