WASHINGTON -- Democratic Rep. Steve Israel concedes that many clouds hang over his party's prospects in this year's battle for the House but sees the austere Republican budget that cuts $5.1 trillion over a decade as a silver lining.
Over the next seven months of campaigning, Democrats are hoping that attacks on GOP proposals to slash popular domestic programs will blunt the Republicans' unwavering pounding on Obamacare.
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In a House vote set for Thursday, the Republican majority is expected to approve the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last week.
Democrats already have begun highlighting the budget cuts of $145 billion to education, $90 billion to Pell grants for college and $125 billion to food stamps.
The Ryan budget also would repeal Obamacare, strip away $792 billion for Medicaid expansion and privatize Medicare, turning it into subsidies that the elderly could use to buy private insurance plans.
"This will be the defining issue in the midterm elections," Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said last week.
Not so fast, say Republicans.
Obamacare is law, but the Ryan budget will remain on the shelf as a plan because Senate Democrats will block it.
Obamacare's botched rollout, canceled policies and other problems still resonate with voters and will be a top issue in the campaigns for the 50 to 75 House seats in play, said a National Republican Campaign Committee official.
"We will continue to remind voters about the disastrous consequences of Obamacare and how it is affecting middle-class families and small businesses that, through no choice of their own, are seeing costs go up and their coverage go down," said spokesman Ian Prior.
"If the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants to counter that argument [by] . . . spinning fictitious scare tactics out of the GOP budget blueprint, we welcome that approach," Prior said.
President Barack Obama and Democrats have been celebrating achievement of the goal of signing up more than 7 million people for insurance through the exchanges -- with the message that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
Israel (D-Huntington) said Democrats who voted for the health care law can deflect attacks by pointing out that GOP repeal would also take away popular features, such as a ban on denying insurance for pre-existing conditions and funding so seniors don't face the "Doughnut Hole" of added cost for medication.
But Israel cautioned, "It's too early to say whether the tide has turned."
Instead, he acknowledged Democrats face a steep uphill battle in November's midterms.
Historically, the president's party loses seats in his sixth year in office. That trend is more pronounced the worse the president's approval rating.
More than two dozen polls taken in the last month put Obama's ratings at between 40 percent and 45 percent -- his lowest while in office.
Political analysts said Democrats are not likely to win the 17 seats needed to take back control of the House -- and generally agree they'll lose five to eight seats.
"It's a tough climate for us right now," Israel said.
"But I believe this Republican budget helps change the narrative by reminding voters who has their backs."