Today, the House is expected to vote on Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget. Almost universally, Republicans have praised the document, which cuts $6.2 trillion in spending over the next decade. “I think you’ve got it give Paul Ryan credit because he put out this plan, this blueprint. And it’s courageous for him to do this,” Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle told CNN’s Brianna Keilar and me on Tuesday. “To not face Medicare and the fact that in six years it’s going to be defunct. This is a disservice to the American people. And not to have that discussion, it’s time to change the paradigm. It’s time to change the way we do business and preserving Medicare is what this budget is about or something along those lines.”
Sounds like she’s voting for it, right? When we asked all four of the freshmen in our roundtable if they were voting for Ryan’s budget they all said “Yes” or nodded. I’ve asked CNN for the video clip, which I hope to post here this afternoon. (Update: here it is.) I noted that they were all planning to vote for the budget in my write up on Wednesday. But then Thursday, Buerkle’s office began calling. They said she’d never said she was going to vote for the budget. Local newspapers, whom she’d told that she was still making up her mind, had begun to call. They wanted a correction that she’d never said she was voting for the bill. Fair enough, she never actually said it — but she’d indicated it on camera without qualifiers. This was an hour-long pre-taped interview and when I asked if they were all voting it was a yes or a nod and then silence for a beat before we moved on to the next question. There was plenty of time for Buerkle to say, “I’m leaning yes, but…” Still, we changed “said” to “indicated” to appease her office. Not happy with this, they pressed for a clarification that she is now undecided. We updated to say that Buerkle is now undecided. So, why all the fuss?
Buerkle won her district, New York 25, by one of the narrowest margins in 2010 — 50.2% to Democratic incumbent Dan Maffei’s 49.8%. The race wasn’t decided until Nov. 23 when Maffei, who was trailing by 567 votes, declined to do a hand recount because he couldn’t afford one (Maffei is weighing a re-match). The district went for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 — one of 14 such GOP-held districts. In fact, there are 60 seats currently held by Republicans that went for Obama in 2008 — an eye popping number given that Republicans only control the House by 25 seats.
Democrats have done a decent job politicizing the Ryan budget, and scaring the heck out of seniors. The budget does envision turning Medicare into a voucher system which will result in some, impossible from this far out to determine, cuts in services. Those over 55 would be grandfathered in, so it wouldn’t affect the current generation. But seniors hear “cuts to Medicare” and blood pounds to their heads and they’re deaf to all other qualifiers. And Dems have been beating that mantra for weeks. “It’s a deathtrap for seniors,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the new head of the Democratic National Committee, said last week. Buerkle’s district is 14% seniors — not exactly Palm Beach, but nothing to sneeze at. As Politico noted earlier this week, Buerkle isn’t the only one struggling with this vote: it’s easily the toughest vote Republicans have yet to case this session. Will Buerkle vote for it? If she does, Democrats will hang the Medicare albatross around her neck. If she doesn’t, she just earned herself a nice John Kerry flip flop when she misspoke to us.