Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is Ryan's Road Map the Next Contract With America?

Is Paul Ryan's Road Map for America's Future the next Contract With America, a potential ideological rallying point for Republicans in 2010?

Talking Points Memo talks to former Cong. Jim Nussle, who says Yes.

Former Rep. Jim Nussle, the architect of Republican budgets under President George W. Bush, says the GOP should spend political capital and embrace a plan that privatizes Social Security and ends Medicare. In an interview with TPMDC, Nussle said that even though Republican leadership isn't publicly jumping on board to Rep. Paul Ryan's budget "roadmap," it is a fiscally responsible framework that will guide the Republicans into the campaign season.

"Even if they don't go exactly the way he wants them to with the roadmap he gives them a lot of good ideas to pick and choose from," Nussle told me today.

And Nussle (R-IA) knows something about writing Republican spending plans, since he led the Budget Committee during Bush's first term. He most recently served as Bush's Office of Management and Budget director, lost the Iowa governor's race in 2006 and now leads a consulting firm.

Nussle compares the early reaction to the Ryan roadmap to when he and Rep. John Boehner (now minority leader) wrote the Contract with America in 1994.

I think the analogy breaks down very quickly, for a number of reasons.

1. The content. The Road Map is concerned about big issues that have significant implications for the country and every American while the Contract with America was about gimmicks (tax credits, etc.), beating up the poor (welfare reform) and other chunks of right wing red meat (sticking it to the UN, tort reform, etc.)

2. The framing. When it was presented, health care reform was the biggest issue of the day and most Americans wanted some degree of health care (see Theda Skocpol's Boomerang). The Contract, as noted, had nothing to do with health care. Presumably deliberately, to shift the narrative.

3. The level of public interest. As also noted in Boomerang, public awareness of the Contract was not very high and did not have much of an impact in races. It became important in retrospect and in beltway spin. The interest in health care and the future of Social Security is a bit higher.

4. The presentation. The Contract was part of an overall pitch by a disciplined party with effective leadership. The Republican Party is very good at saying no, but, as shown by Republicans who one day praise Ryan's plan and then back off from it, they're not necessarily good at that vision thing.

5. The political context. In 1994 the Republicans were more popular than Dems and increasingly seen as the best party to lead. That is definitively not the case now.

Paul Ryan's Road Map is a big plan -- a misguided plan, to be sure -- but a big plan to take on big issues. The Contract with America was a gimmick whose resonance with voters has been greatly overstated (though its resonance with "the political class" is a different matter). The Road Map is not the next Contract anymore than 2010 is going to be 1994.

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