The Republican budget plan has not come out yet, which has not stopped Republicans from congratulating themselves for their greater seriousness about the deficit. Paul Ryan gives an interview with National Review previewing the Republican strategy. Most of it consists of Ryan taking credit in advance for his courageous willingness to face down demagogic opponents and tell hard truths, whatever the political cost, which he is quick to assure his listeners will not actually amount to much. But there are a couple interesting nuggets amidst the self-congratulatory rhetoric. First, Ryan's aid explains that the cuts will not actually be very deep:
Just as important, an aide explains, will be stressing Republicans’ proposed reforms “while politically courageous, are actually quite modest in scope.” One thing Ryan always points out whenever he talks about entitlement reform is that meaningful change can be achieved without affecting Americans in or near retirement.
Second, Ryan says that he plans to divide moderate Democrats from liberal ones:
In order to capitalize on this perceived advantage, Ryan and his colleagues will, in addition to their educational campaign, pursue a parallel strategy designed to split Democrats along their party’s liberal fault line — to separate the Nancy Pelosis from the Steny Hoyers in the House, the Harry Reids from the Mark Warners and Kent Conrads in the Senate, and generally, the Blue Dog, Reagan Democrats willing to “share the urgency” and work across the aisle, from those who think the debt crisis can easily be solved with tax increases. In short, the serious from the unserious.
“President Obama is going to have to decide: Is he an Erskine Bowles Democrat or a Nancy Pelosi Democrat?” an aide says.
Taken together, these sound like laying the groundwork for a budget that does not cut entitlement programs all that deeply. Framing the budget as an attempt to split the opposition is a way of putting an aggressive political face on a less-aggressive policy.
My expectation is that the Republican budget relies on large, unspecified cuts in domestic discretionary spending, and that its entitlement spending cuts will be distant and fairly well-hidden. That's what I suspect Ryan is trying to signal to the conservative base. But we'll see what he comes up with.