GOP budget sets up competing visions for 2012 candidates

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds up a copy of his budget plan entitled "The Path to Prosperity," Tuesday, March 20, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Paul Ryan, budget
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds up a copy of his budget plan entitled "The Path to Prosperity," Tuesday, March 20, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

(CBS News) House Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed 2013 budget has essentially no chance of becoming law, but that doesn't mean it doesn't serve a purpose: The proposed budget draws a clear dividing line between Democrats and Republicans ahead of this year's presidential election.

Upon unveiling his budget today, Ryan said he "absolutely" expects the eventual presidential nominee from his party to get behind his budget proposal, despite its potential political landmines, most notable his proposed changes to Medicare. In addition to adding a private insurance option for seniors using Medicare, Ryan's budget also overhauls the tax code and would create just two income tax brackets, 25 percent and 10 percent. Ryan said today his budget would balance the budget by 2040, putting the nation on the track to prosperity.

"We are sharpening the contrast between the path that we are proposing and the path to debt and decline that the president has placed us upon," Ryan said today. "And, yes, we do believe that our nominee, whoever this person is going to be, is gonna be perfectly consistent with this."

"I've spoken to all these guys," he added. "And they believe that we are heading in the right direction."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told CBS News he applauds Ryan and his House colleagues "for taking a bold step toward putting our nation back on the track to fiscal sanity and robust economic growth." The plan, he said, will "strengthen Medicare for generations to come" and shares Romney's goals of cutting taxes, reforming the tax code, reducing spending and tackling the debt.

Newt Gingrich called the Ryan budget "a courageous plan that correctly understands the key to returning to a balanced budget is robust economic growth, spending control and bold entitlement reform." He said his plan to grow the economy and balance the budget "differs in details but shares the same core principles."

At least one Republican presidential candidate, however -- libertarian Rep. Ron Paul -- says Ryan's budget doesn't actually go far enough. Paul, whose budget plan would make $1 trillion in cuts in one year, said in a statement that Ryan's plan is "essentially playing the same game the Washington establishment has played for years with our hard-earned money."

While it may seem like politics-as-usual to Paul, Democrats are already casting Ryan's budget as too extreme. The congressman's 2013 plan is sure to face the same fate as his 2012 budget: It was approved by the GOP-led House but was flatly dismissed by the Democratic-led Senate and President Obama. Democrats seized on the proposals in the budget to accuse Republicans ending Medicare. In a presidential election year, the criticism is almost certain to be louder.

The White House today blasted Ryan's plan, in part because they said its tax breaks "would be paid for by undermining Medicare and the very things we need to grow our economy and the middle class - things like education, basic research, and new sources of energy."

But rather than shy away from those fights, Ryan has made clear in the past week that Republicans are ready to embrace them. The budget chairman released two campaign-like videos in the days before releasing his budget, telling Americans they have a choice to make about the nation's future.

"Will it be a future that looks like the America we know?" Ryan says in a video released Monday, over ominous music. "One of greater opportunity, greater prosperity, or more of what we're seeing today: debt, doubt and decline."

While he may not win over the full Congress with his plan, Ryan at least wants to make his case to the voters and perhaps give his party a boost in November. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, was at Ryan's side today to praise his plan and promise similar plans if Republicans win back the Senate this year. He excoriated Senate Democrats for failing to put forward their own budget.

"The Senate's Democratic majority has forfeited their claim to leadership for America," Sessions said. "If the voters give the Republicans in the Senate the honor of having the majority and the leadership, we will work with the House to pass a congressional budget. It will be an honest budget. It will change the debt course of America."

Mr. Obama has similarly put forward proposals this year he aims to make part of his re-election pitch, even though they were dead-on-arrival in Congress. Facing the prospect of more GOP resistance this year, the president's re-election team released their own 17-minute video -- albeit with a lot more theatrics, complete with narration by Tom Hanks -- touting the president's accomplishments.

With reporting from CBS News/ National Journal reporter Sarah Boxer.

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