When you hear congressional Republicans insist over the next few months that the American people agree with their budget priorities, keep this in mind: They know better.
House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan introduced his committee’s fiscal 2014 spending plan Tuesday and amid all the focus on the fact it would balance Washington’s books in 10 years, in part by repealing the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), I was struck by a phrase the Wisconsin Republican repeated several times in his morning news conference: "means to an end."
There is little difference between Ryan’s 2014 budget and the two previous proposals offered by the House GOP majority. But politically, the emphasis and messaging have been altered significantly. This new blueprint might appear to be about balanced budgets, tax reform and overhauling Medicare. In fact, many House Republicans will still focus on these items — it’s why they came to Congress. But what does Ryan want Americans to think about his budget? That it will make their lives better.
“We want people to know that this isn’t simply an accounting exercise, that this is an exercise in making a better country, and helping people who are in need, in getting a growing economy that produces more opportunity and upward mobility,” Ryan told CQ Roll Call after he unveiled his budget. “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not an accounting exercise; it’s not root canal economics, it’s pro-growth economics that gets people the kind of opportunity that they’ve always known about in America growing up.
“So many people are beginning to believe that the American dream is so far out of their reach,” Ryan continued. “This budget helps restore the kind of economic vitality that places that American dream within reach of everybody. And that’s why we’re doing this. So we think it’s really important to emphasize why we’re doing what we’re doing, what our goal at the end of the day is.”
Fresh off of campaigning for vice president in 2012 and recognizing the GOP’s failure to connect with rank-and-file voters as much as any congressional Republican, Ryan acknowledged what many party insiders have been saying for months. Specifically, congressional Republicans’ relentless focus on fiscal issues has not registered with everyday Americans dealing with problems such as unemployment and escalating health care costs.
Polling usually shows generic support for balanced budgets and reducing wasteful spending. But at election time, President Barack Obama’s “balanced approach” that focused more on government investment (i.e. spending) and de-emphasizing deficit control won the day, and in the process bested the Republicans on the issue of economic growth. That is why congressional Republicans, led by Ryan, are on a new mission to emphasize how their budget priorities would improve Americans’ lives and address their kitchen table concerns.
And, it’s not only Ryan who appeared committed to changing the American public’s view of House Republicans and their budget priorities. The members who joined him in speaking to reporters during Tuesday’s news conference also discussed the fiscal 2014 spending plan as a “means to an end” — a means to grow the economy, create jobs, increase wages and lower health care costs, among other things.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who serves as the Ways and Means Committee’s liaison to the Budget Committee and is heavily involved in the tax reform component of Ryan’s budget, indicated to CQ Roll Call following the news conference that she wants voters to see the Republican plan to simplify the tax code and lower rates for all taxpayers as more than just the typical GOP exercise to lower taxes. Black also serves on the Budget Committee.
Like Ryan, Black conceded that Republicans have dropped the ball in this regard in the recent past. “That’s the reason why we don’t just call it tax reform, we call it pro-growth tax reform, because at the end of the day that’s what we want to do, we want to grow this economy and give people an opportunity to have more jobs and families to have a higher standard of living,” the congresswoman said.
Black added that Republicans have been trying to talk about why their policies would help voters improve their daily lives, “but not to the degree that we need to make sure that Americans understand. ... It’s up to us."