Senate Democrats sought to paint Rep. Paul Ryan as an extreme fiscal conservative Monday, one day before the Wisconsin Republican delivers his party’s rebuttal to the State of the Union address.
The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement condemning Ryan’s fiscal plan, known as the “Roadmap for America’s Future,” while Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) scrutinized it during a conference call for reporters.
“It is clear from the Republican Party’s selection of Paul Ryan to be its spokesman in the wake of the State of the Union address by the president and from their decision this coming Tuesday to vote on a resolution giving him unfettered control on what to cut ... that they are getting behind his plan,” said Whitehouse, who added, “That makes clear that they are coming after Social Security and Medicare.”
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has offered controversial proposals, such as converting Medicare into a publicly subsidized private insurance market for future retirees.
Whitehouse and Sanders asserted that Ryan’s plan is an “attack” on Medicare and Social Security and full of tax cuts for wealthy Americans. The two liberal Senators maintained that the Republican Party tacitly endorsed Ryan’s fiscal plan by appointing him its chief spokesman following Tuesday night’s speech.
“On these financial issues, Paul Ryan has become the leader of the Republicans, and they have brought him forth to provide an alternative approach to what President Obama is going to offer,” Sanders said. “I think it is absolutely appropriate for us to focus on the guy who has in a sense developed their blueprint for the future.”
The statement from Reid’s office sought to tie House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Ryan’s plan, based on comments the Virginia Republican made during an appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press.” When asked whether House Republicans stand behind Ryan’s plan, Cantor responded that it is “something we need to embrace.”
In the past, Ryan has said that his “Roadmap” is his own wish list of proposals and not something that he could successfully steer through the House. The newly installed Budget chairman has also acknowledged that he will try to hone some of his ideas into more palpable legislative proposals that could garner the support of a majority of House Republicans.
The “Roadmap” was not included in the “Pledge to America,” the governing agenda unveiled by House Republicans shortly before November’s midterm elections, and few Members talked about Ryan’s plan on the campaign trail. Still, Republicans often prop up Ryan during budget and fiscal debates because of his understanding of the issues and ability to express them in sound bites.
While the person designated to deliver the rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address typically enjoys a higher profile in the days after the speech, the pre-emptive criticism is less common.
For his part, Ryan batted off the criticism Monday and took particular aim at Reid.
“We appreciate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s effort to contrast Chairman Ryan’s invitation for solutions with the Majority Leader’s non-solution to exacerbate our uncontrolled fiscal trajectory,” spokesman Conor Sweeney said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.