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The Republican Road to Recovery

Minority Leader John Boehner introduced the plan, directly accusing the president's plan of being "anti-stimulus" and arguing that the GOP plan will "return fiscal sanity" to Washington. Even the mainstream media found it difficult to ignore the Republicans' dramatically different approach to the budget, taxes, and health care. The complete alternative budget itself will be unveiled next week by Rep.Paul Ryan. As Politico reported:

"It's the old ‘I want to see it in writing,'" said a top House Republican official. "They're going to see it in writing."

Another official said: "We need to hold something up and say, ‘Here are our charts. Here are our graphs. It's real.'"

Meanwhile, although not directly tied to the House GOP plan, John McCain took shots Thursday at the president's plan during a speech at the Heritage Foundation. ABC News reported:

"We must respect the principle that solutions must be durable. If we fall prey to the siren song of short-run expediency, we will spend money in ways that we will just have to reverse in the future," McCain is expected to say according to remarks prepared for delivery. "Sadly, I believe that the president's budget is a leading example of this problem. President Obama is sticking five percent of Americans with the bill for a massive expansion of government. As budget policy, this is risky business and bad economics, and it is premised on a misguided approach to fairness that will not stand the test of time."

In short, the gloves are coming off. Republicans are done excusing the Democratic excesses as violating the president's "real" objectives. They are going directly after the Obama budget. While Obama is trying to clamp down on opposition within his own ranks from nervous Red state Democrats, the newly aggressive Republican moves suggest that Republicans see an opening.

In the furor over bailouts and the growing public concern over huge spending increases and a looming deficit, Republicans are aiming not to win the budget battle, but to re-establish the differentiation between the parties. Having lost their image of fiscal sobriety during the Bush years, Republicans now are struggling to re-establish their brand. At the very least they are offering a choice: free market health care vs. government-run, nationalized care; bailouts vs. getting failing companies off the dole; and higher vs. lower taxes. Without the necessity of rounding up votes they have the luxury of painting the stark differences in political philosophy between the two parties.

Will it "work"? Well, it is not going to pass, of course. But that is not its aim. In a sense the Republican budget plan "works" by existing, by reminding voters that massive taxing and spending is not the only alternative. Provided the Republicans oppose the Obama budget en masse (which is highly likely), they will be positioned to argue in the years ahead, and most clearly in 2010, that Obama "owns" the budget and our fiscal outlook.

If it turns out that voters don't like a $3.6 trillion budget, a massive hike in the debt, and higher taxes, Republicans will be there, waiting to offer themselves as a brake against Obama's ultra-liberal agenda. So if not a road to recovery for the country, the document unveiled Thursday is in fact the first step on the Republicans' political road to recovery. It is a long journey, but at least it has begun.