Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Elephant Dung #33: Snowe and Collins to vote NO on Ryan budget plan

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see
here. For previous entries, see here.)

As the recent Gingrich vs. Ryan brouhaha revealed, the Republican wunderkind's budget plan, including its Medicare-slashing component, has become, despite its widespread unpopularity, Republican orthodoxy from which deviation/dissent is not tolerated. (If you do happen to dissent even just a smidge, the party's Bolsheviks will do their utmost to purge you from their ranks.)

And yet it's obvious that many Republicans are having their doubts. The result in NY-26 yesterday, in a way a referendum on Ryan's plan that was a resounding NO, shows that Republicans are vulnerable, and many are distancing themselves from the plan, if not outright opposing it already. Fear of voter revolt, it seems, may just overcome the party whip.

And that appears to be especially true in Maine:

Maine's Republican senators will vote against the House Republican 2012 budget authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, with Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in opposition to the House GOP-proposed Medicare changes.

Snowe confirmed her opposition [yesterday] afternoon during a Capitol Hill interview, while Collins reiterated a position she first made known last month.

Senate Democratic leaders are expected to call up the House GOP budget for a Senate floor vote later this week, probably Thursday. Collins and Snowe join a small but growing group of Republican senators – including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and possibly Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who have announced they will vote against the proposal to partially privatize Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors, and hand over authority to run Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, completely to the states in the form of a block grant program. 

To be fair, both Collins and Snowe are on the more moderate, more sane side of the party and aren't exactly the sort of right-wing hardliners who have been falling head-over-heals for Ryan. And Snowe, who is facing a Tea Party challenge in 2012, would seem to have every reason to reach out to the right, but isn't. So maybe, just maybe, this is a matter of principle for them, not political opportunism.

Still, what we're seeing here, and not just in Maine, is what I'll call The Great Republican Exodus of 2012. It isn't really exodus from the party but rather exodus from the new party orthodoxy, from the new right-wing Republican mainstream. As more and more Republicans come to see how unpopular the Ryan plan is, and how vulnerable it makes them, more and more of them will do what Collins and Snowe and Murkowski and Brown are doing (and what it looked like Gingrich was doing), which is rejecting it as way too extreme.

Yes, this too is opportunism. The fear of a voter revolt, of losing moderates and independents and possibly even losing safe Republican seats, apparently outweighs, for them, the fear of a Tea Party challenge and of being attacked by their fellow Republicans and in the conservative media for being un-Republican and anti-American.

Still, it's the sort of opportunism that makes them look respectable, and obviously more appealing to voters in states like Maine and Massachusetts (if not necessarily Alaska). This will be one of the dominant stories over the next year and a half, this divide in the Republican Party between those on Ryan's side and those who, for whatever reason, have had enough, with a large gray area in between for those who want to hedge their bets and have it both ways.


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