By Russell Berman and Erik Wasson
Rep. Paul Ryan on Tuesday will seek to unify the Republican Conference with a rallying cry to balance the budget in 10 years.
The target set by Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is more aggressive than the one Democrats rejected last year that took until nearly 2040 to balance.
Ryan will take center stage for the third year in a row to roll out a party platform that calls for overhauling entitlement programs, rewriting the tax code and dramatically reducing federal spending over the next decade.
He hopes to sell the budget to his colleagues and the public as responsible, but not overly austere.
While Ryan has said the budget will be similar to the ones he offered in 2011 and 2012, he is presenting his proposal at a much different political moment.
Buoyed by the reelection of President Obama, Democrats will argue that voters have already rejected both Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee in the 2012 race, and his ideas.
And although Ryan has won the enthusiastic support of conservatives for proposing to eliminate the federal deficit within 10 years, he is doing so with the help of Obama policies that Republicans detest.
The budget baseline that Ryan has used includes more than $600 billion in new tax revenues from January's "fiscal cliff" deal. His resolution will also incorporate $700 billion in Medicare savings from the 2010 healthcare reform law that he campaigned against as Mitt Romney's running mate last fall.
Now a household name, Ryan must sell his ideas anew at a time when other Republican leaders are cautioning that the GOP cannot brand itself as the party of austerity.
"The point is, we think we owe the American people a balanced budget," Ryan said in previewing his plan on "Fox News Sunday."
"The reason we do a balanced budget is not to make the numbers simply add up. It leads to a healthy, growing economy that creates jobs. It's a means to an end. And the means is to get to a good, growing economy to create jobs and opportunity."
The Republican budget will not increase taxes, and Ryan said the proposal would not actually cut spending from present levels, cutting instead from the level of projected spending growth by $5 trillion.
The key difference between this Ryan budget and its previous iterations is that the 2013 proposal balances the budget in a decade.
Ryan and other Republicans have acknowledged that because of the tax increases in January and the spending cuts in the 2011 Budget Control Act, moving up the balance date did not require wholesale changes.
Although Ryan floated a change to the age at which older people would be exempt from his Medicare "premium support" plan, the cut-off will remain at 55, according to lawmakers with knowledge of the plan.
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and a member of the Budget Committee, argued that balancing the budget over the course of a decade should not be considered draconian.
"Our proposal doesn't work on, you know, how hard can we make this on the American people. That's not the goal," he said.
"I don't think a lot of people see it as a draconian austerity move to say in the next 10 years we're going to try to get ourselves back in balance. If we said three months from now we're going to be back in balance and find a way to cut $1 trillion out of the deficit, I think a lot of people would be very uncomfortable with [that] as Americans."
Republicans further contend that their sales pitch will benefit from the fact that Senate Democrats will be voting on a budget for the first time in four years. That will allow the GOP to draw a specific contrast with a Democratic alternative, rather than simply defend its own proposals.
And while Ryan will unveil his proposal, as in past years, with a formal press conference and television interviews, Senate Democrats appear poised to hold the release of their plan until the moment the Senate Budget Committee begins marking it up on Wednesday.
The public rollout will be key: House Republicans have a slimmer majority in the 113th Congress than they did last year, when the Ryan budget lost 10 GOP votes. This year, Republicans can afford to lose 15 of their own members, if all current House members vote.
The leadership is likely to find more support from conservatives because of Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) commitment in January to backing a 10-year balanced budget. But more centrist lawmakers have voiced concerns about the deeper cuts that might be needed to eliminate the deficit in the shorter specified time frame.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), a member of the Budget Committee who authored the Republican Study Committee's more conservative budget alternative last year, said Ryan's budget will have an easier time getting passed in the House because it balances sooner.
Neither the Senate Democratic budget nor the eventual Obama budget are expected to call for eliminating the deficit entirely.
Freshman Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), a member of the Budget Committee, said that the new budget is a "significant movement forward" from the last House budget, which took longer to balance.
"It is a much better message. We have a solution. They don't," he said.
Garrett and Williams acknowledged they did not like the fact that the Ryan budget would incorporate the tax increases from the fiscal-cliff deal, but Garrett said he could live with it for the sake of compromise.
"I am not totally comfortable with that," he said. "We should continue to have that discussion on revenue levels."
The Republican Study Committee is again moving toward offering its own budget proposal, although it won't make a final decision until it sees the full Ryan plan, Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) said. "That's the direction we're heading," he said.
The 2012 RSC budget plan balanced in five years without increasing any of the Bush-era tax rates, Scalise noted.
To avoid competing with the Ryan budget and drawing the ire of leadership, he said the large conservative bloc would urge its members to support both the RSC and the Ryan proposals.