The Budget Just Turned into a Campaign Ad Against Democrats

The joint committee’s budget is about to pass the Senate, and that’s all well and good if you want to avoid Christmas Eve political showdowns. But as our elected representatives vote, let’s welcome the birth of a new talking point.

When Patty Murray and Paul Ryan stepped before TV cameras to announce the first bipartisan budget deal since the Reagan years, they led with the pain. The painful bits of the budget were the bits that made it look real. Washington’s pundit class wanted to know whether Ryan and Murray had cut any automatic spending. Well, they had—they proudly announced $6 billion in cuts, over 10 years, to military pensions and $6 billion in cuts to the pensions of other federal workers.*

Most House Republicans voted for that. Most Senate Republicans voted against it. They had a little more time to debate the budget, and led by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, they used it to denounce those cuts to the Hard-Earned Pensions of Our Brave Veterans (TM). Sessions, who people often forget is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, proposed scrapping the cuts to pensions but cutting $4.2 billion in other benefits.

That didn’t go anywhere—and a political issue was born. Twice in two days, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has teased the reporters who expect him to run for sSenate in New Hampshire by denouncing incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s vote. (Well, not literally, but you can make the leap.)

Former Rep. Allen West is denouncing this, too. “The mid-term elections are coming,” he writes, “and for those who turned their backs on the military, you shall indeed reap what you have sown.” In no time at all, a budget cut that was being sold as responsible is being spun into a slam on our veterans, whose pensions are absolutely inviolate. The only people vulnerable to this attack in 2014? Four or five incumbent Democratic senators.

*Correction, Dec. 18, 2013: This post originally misstated that the Murray-Ryan budget included $6 million in pension cuts to nonmilitary federal workers. It also misstated that Jeff Sessions proposed cutting $4.2 million in benefits.