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Dems to Ryan: We'll see your budget plan and raise you another

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.)Getty Images

It's clearly not fair that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled his far-right budget proposal this week to great fanfare, but Senate Democrats unveil a rival plan and it gets almost no attention at all. After all, GOP officials have been screaming bloody murder for months, demanding that Dems present a budget, and then when they do, it goes almost entirely overlooked.

Sure, one could make the argument that Senate Democrats got unlucky, unveiling their plan on the same day a new pope was chosen, but it's probably safe to say the rival budget wouldn't have been front-page news whether the Vatican smoke was black or white.

And why is that? It's probably less a matter of party and ideology, and more a matter of policy scope. The Ryan budget, as Matt Yglesias noted, is "almost frighteningly ambitious," aiming for "sweeping social transformation." The House Republican plan wants nothing less than to undo much of American society, taking a sledgehammer to pillars of modern public life such as Medicare. It is the exact opposite of classical conservatism -- what Ryan has in mind is literally radical and a sharp departure from contemporary American norms.

The Senate Democratic budget, meanwhile, is ... modest. It has no intention of trying to transform modern American life, and seeks fiscal responsibility through gradual tweaks and reforms. It's a middle-of-the-road budget, setting a target of $1.85 trillion in debt reduction, divided perfectly between new revenue and new spending cuts. It eyes changes to social-insurance programs like Medicare, but goes out of its way to avoid touching benefits.

As we talked about the other day, the Senate Dems have put together the sort of moderate, mainstream approach that one might expect from a responsible governing party. It accepts compromises, requires unobtrusive concessions from both parties, focuses on pressing needs (scrapping sequestration cuts and boosting infrastructure), all while striving for balanced policymaking.

Ryan envisions a redistribution of wealth unlike anything Americans have seen in generations -- in effect, he and his caucus hope to wage a class war on behalf of the rich while shredding the social safety net. The far-right Wisconsin congressman is less a budget committee chief and more a social engineer who's spent too much time with Ayn Rand novels under his pillow.

The Senate Democratic budget looks at the nation through a very different prism -- the deficit is already shrinking, the recovery is already taking hold, so there's just no need for dramatic changes to how American society functions.

Is it any wonder it generated less attention?