Don't Go Wobby on Ryancare

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 23 2011 10:29 AM

Don't Go Wobby on Ryancare

One day before NY-26 voters will go to the polls, where they will confirm or deny the idea that Paul Ryan's Medicare plan is political hemlock, Glenn Thrush and Jake Sherman report on the internal tensions among Republicans who voted for it.

In a series of heated closed-door exchanges, dissenters, led by Ryan’s main internal rival — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) — argued for a less radical, more bipartisan approach, GOP staffers say.

At a fundraiser shortly after the vote, a frustrated Camp groused, "We shouldn’t have done it" and that he was "overridden," according to a person in attendance.

A few days earlier, as most Republicans remained mute during a GOP conference meeting on the Ryan plan, Camp rose and drily asserted, "People in my district like Medicare," one lawmaker, who is now having his own doubts about voting yes, told POLITICO.

At the same time, GOP pollsters, political consultants and House and NRCC staffers vividly reminded leadership that their members were being forced to walk the plank for a piece of quixotic legislation. They described for leadership the horrors that might be visited on the party during the next campaign, comparing it time and again with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to ram through a cap-and-trade bill despite the risks it posed to Democratic incumbents.

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One odd thing about this: Republicans did not lose many votes on the Ryan budget. The Democrats' cap and trade and health care bills passed by single-digit margins. But only four Republicans voted against the Ryan bill in the House, and two of them did so because they didn't think it went far enough. Why? Because Republicans believe in the plan. They've spent an incredible amount of time and energy talking up the threat of entitlement spending and debt, assuring voters that something needs to break in order to avoid disaster.

Republicans can't undo that, and they can't just skedaddle away from Ryan. So they might lose a seat in western New York: So what? They have 24 seats to spare to keep the majority, and the New York seat will be crunched up by redistricting anyway. So their more skittish members are worried that voters will revolt over the Ryan plan. Some of them well! But the surest way to make sure they revolt is to collapse and apologize for ever voting for the plan. That's (one reason) why the cap and trade vote didn't move the needle on environmental legislation. Cave on the Ryan plan now, tell voters you didn't really support it, and you're just where Republicans were in 2005, when the Social Security reform push foundered.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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