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House Republicans Take The Bait

This nugget in First Read strikes me as certifiable:

Meanwhile, it looks like House Republicans have accepted the president’s dare. “There's an interesting reason why some of these [GOP critics] haven't put out their own budget,” the president said at Tuesday’s press conference. “I mean, we haven't seen an alternative budget out of them.”

And now, House GOPers will unveil their own budget at 11:45 am ET today. It will be interesting to see if the GOP budget contains gimmicks (not counting Iraq war costs, including Alternative Minimum Tax revenues) that mask the true size of the deficit. And it will be especially interesting to see if Senate Republicans embrace the House GOP alternative.

Why would the House GOP do this? As it stands, Americans and moderate Democrats have some real ambivalence about the Obama budget. On the one hand, it spends money to make big, important changes on things like health care and education. On the other hand, it leaves some pretty large deficits in its wake. But if it's a choice between high deficits and a bunch of stuff people want, and high deficits and spending cuts and tax cuts for the rich, it's hard to see how Obama loses. The House GOP has just given him a way to change the subject any time someone asks a tough question.

In fairness, I haven't actually seen the House GOP alternative yet. It's possible that it employs some funky math and promises to both cut taxes for the wealthy and significantly lower the deficit. But in that case I think it's going to be immediately branded as a gimmick, giving Obama the opportunity to say he's trying to solve the country's problems while the other side is playing accounting games.

I don't understand why, in a debate where Obama has genuine vulnerabilities, the House GOPers would force themselves to play defense rather than just stay on offense.

P.S. I'll update this as details become available.

Update: Tim Fernholz over at Tapped had a great item last week about the different incentives facing the House and Senate GOP in the budget debate. He also explains why there's really no way for Republicans to come up with a budget alternative that isn't deeply goofy.  

Update II: Shockingly, the House GOP decided to punt on the details. Elana Schor over at TPMDC went to the unveiling and had this to report:

There certainly was no hard budgetary data in the attractively designed 18-page packet that the House GOP handed out today, its blue cover emblazoned with an ambitious title: "The Republican Road to Recovery." When Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was asked what his goal for deficit reduction would be -- President Obama aims to halve the nation's spending imbalance within five years -- Boehner responded simply: "To do better [than Obama]."

When pressed further by reporters, Boehner promised that Republicans would release their actual budget within the next few days...

Can't wait.

--Noam Scheiber