The moment presidential challenger Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, the GOP national ticket became bonded to a detailed plan to close the federal deficit -- one blasted by Democrats as excessively painful for all but the rich.
Now, a localized version of the clash over Ryan's proposals as House budget committee chairman resounds in Suffolk, where the 1st Congressional District race draws attention from both national parties.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), facing Republican Randy Altschuler in November, declared in a 45-minute interview with Newsday editors and reporters that the Ryan pick "is really going to force the discussion back to where it belongs, which is on the issues."
Bishop clearly wants to allow no space between Altschuler and parts of the Ryan plan Bishop calls "very difficult to defend." Altschuler "said he would have voted for it, so he owns it," Bishop declared.
An Altschuler spokesman replied in part: "The fact of the matter is that Randy said he supports the bipartisan reform plans put forward by Congressman Ryan because they were the only plans on the table to protect Medicare for current seniors and preserve it for future generations." His camp accused Bishop and other Democrats of "class warfare."
But Bishop said that in a district where Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College are leading employers, adoption of the Ryan budget would do big damage -- slashing Pell grants, lifting student-loan interest rates, and killing the American Opportunity tax credit.
More broadly, the plan's cutting the tax rate for top incomes while "it holds tax revenues constant" means "somebody's going to pay more" -- in particular families making $100,000 to $200,000, whose taxes would rise, he said. Turning Medicare "into a voucher program" and cutting Medicaid would mean "an enormous number of people are going to become disenfranchised," Bishop said.
Not that the 1st District campaign will become all-Ryan-all-the-time.
Bishop seeks to counter Altschuler's statements, as published from a parallel Newsday interview in June, suggesting that he's the independent and Bishop mostly follows party leadership.
"I don't think too many moderates assiduously court the support of the tea party," Bishop said. "The Congress needs more reasonable, rational people who are fact-driven, who are logical, who are pragmatists, who are solution-oriented and who are willing to reach across to the other side of the aisle to get things done."
Bishop cited his co-sponsorships with Republicans on infrastructure bills, and noted he's one of 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans in the congressional "Go Big Coalition" that called for $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years with "no sacred cows." He's dissented from party positions on trade bills, charter schools and a tax in the health care law on companies that manufacture medical equipment. Of constituent services, he said, "We're really good at it."
Still, this remains Ryan week.
"What I've heard Paul Ryan say over and over -- and I think he's right -- is that we need a clarifying election," Bishop said. "Well, if the election is waged on, if you will, the Ryan budget as a template, that will be a clarifying election. That will be people saying 'We agree with Mr. Ryan' or 'We don't agree.' "