Paul Ryan's budget has become a rallying cry for Democrats, and President Obama's re-election in particular. Republicans have long expressed an antipathy for the general concept of government services, but these were often expressed in the abstract or lone exceptions, with the party generally focusing on the starve-the-beast philosophy of reducing taxes so that government outlays would eventually have to be reduced. Ryan's budget gets that down on paper in crystallized form, codifying those ideas into a specific vision for the future that would gut all government services except health spending, Social Security, and an increased budget for defense, discarding the rest of discretionary spending.
Earlier this morning, Ryan told a group of reporters in New York that his budget wasn't actually all that extreme because an anonymous selection of a dozen Democrats have told him they love his bill. From Buzzfeed:
"There are a number of democrats but I don’t want to name their names, because I don’t want to get them in trouble," he said. "I’ve had 12 come up to me and say, 'I love what you're doing with Ron [Wyden],'" he said. As for going public with their support, Ryan said the Democrats told him: "No way, I’ll get killed."
"I’m not going to out Democrats who I believe are in office, who are favorably disposed to these ideas, for their own sake and for the sake of getting this consensus realized," Ryan said.
That's certainly not what Democrats have publicly stated. Obama called it "nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism" during a speech last week. "If there are just a couple of things that I would want people to know about this bill they are: ends the Medicare guarantee, ends the Medicare guarantee, ends the Medicare guarantee," Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor before the bill was put up for a vote last month. It did successfully clear that vote, but with no Democrats breaking ranks to support the bill. Perhaps there really are a handful of Blue Dog Democrats in the House who might like some of Ryan's ideas, but it's hard to take him at his word unless any come forward to support his proposal.
There's good reason for any politician to hesitate before supporting Ryan's plan. The budget specifies the reduced taxes levied on the rich along with the general vision for a reduced welfare state without articulating the painful cuts envisioned by his deficit-reduction goals. Instead, he just offers a broad outline for cutting tax expenditures, leaving the decision on what benefits will be cut to others. Via Kevin Drum, this chart is a good indicator for why Democrats want to see Ryan specify which expenditures he'd cut from the books:
As Drum writes, "Do you see how hard this is?" The exclusion of health benefits from taxation eats up more than 10 percent of all expenditures, yet replacing that measure would require a complete overhaul of health insurance. The mortgage-interest deduction and 401(k)s each take up about 8 percent of annual expenditures but are both politically popular and unlikely to disappear easily. The same could be said about the myriad of other health expenditures, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or charitable deductions. Perhaps capturing the $20 billion in revenue would be politically popular in the public—though not among the current Republicans' opposition to anything that would increase the burden on corporate America—but that doesn't make that large of a dent. It might theoretically be possible to reach the $400 million in cuts assumed under Ryan's budget, but it certainly will require a political fight, one that Ryan has so far has been unwilling to stake his credibility on by omitting the gritty details.