For a Republican party still reeling from November’s defeat and hoping to regain some confidence, the upcoming midterm cycle looks especially promising, and many are optimistic that the ongoing budget debate has the potential to drive electoral gains in 2014.
This week, the Republican House and Democratic Senate are expected to pass competing budget proposals. Both sides will claim to have endorsed “balanced” plans — Republicans because their budget reaches balance in ten years, Democrats because theirs raises taxes by $1 trillion.
Republicans already know what to expect. Democrats have spent nearly two years on the offensive against Paul Ryan’s “extreme” budgets, yet House Republicans have maintained their majority while honing their defenses. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been quietly polling competitive districts, where balancing the federal budget is very appealing, even among Democrats.
On the Senate side, Democrats have finally authored a budget proposal for the first time in nearly four years, providing Republicans with a concrete alternative to run against. Senate Democrats haven’t voted for any budget during that period, even unanimously rejecting each and every budget offered by President Obama. The sketchy plan they have at long last put forward is a case study on why they have been so reluctant to put pen to paper and write a budget themselves.
The Democratic plan raises taxes by $1 trillion without explaining exactly how; increases spending by more than $600 billion, including a $100 billion stimulus package paid for by raising taxes; and adds more than $7.3 trillion to the national debt. It increases mandatory spending on entitlement programs — the biggest drivers of the national debt — by $28 billion. On spending, taxes, and entitlements, the Democratic budget is to the left of what Obama has proposed.
The usual media mouthpieces have not given it a free pass, either. In a withering critique, the Washington Post editorial board wrote that the Senate plan “gives voters no reason to believe that Democrats have a viable plan for — or even a responsible public assessment of — the country’s long-term fiscal predicament.”
Following the president’s reelection, many Democrats are feeling confident that the public generally supports their positions on budget issues. Republican aides and strategists believe that confidence is misplaced, especially heading into a midterm cycle, where turnout typically favors the GOP.
Furthermore, Senate Democrats face a challenging map in 2014. They must defend seven seats in states Mitt Romney carried last year. Several others are in contestable swing states, such as New Hampshire and Colorado. Another seat, in Minnesota, is currently occupied by a comedian. “If we play our cards right, 2014 could be a great year,” says one GOP Senate aide.
The politics of 2014 are likely to be on full display later this week, when the Senate is expected to initiate the 50-hour “vote-a-rama” process, during which lawmakers may offer unlimited amendments that cannot be filibustered. Republicans are planning to offer dozens of amendments — on spending, taxes, welfare, energy, and a host of other controversial issues — designed to make life as difficult as possible for vulnerable Democrats. As one GOP aide toldNational Review Online: “It’s going to become abundantly clear why Democrats have avoided this process for so long.”