The U.S. House approved a Republican-authored budget on Thursday that has absolutely no chance of becoming law. The question is, could it be an important issue in fall campaigns?
The resolution authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., calls for $5.1 trillion in spending cuts in most non-defense parts of the federal budget, including Medicare, over the next decade. The vote fell along partisan lines, with Minnesota's three House Republicans voting for the measure and the state's five Democrats voting against it.
The budget debate was unnecessary in the sense that Democrats and Republicans last winter had agreed on federal spending levels for the next two years.
Republican leaders, though, wanted to pass it as a statement of principle. Democrats are practically salivating at the lines of attack the Ryan budget will give them on the campaign trail.
"I suspect that this will be the real focus of the campaign and the election," said Minnesota 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan, who's facing a well-funded challenge from Republican Stewart Mills.
Mills turned down an interview request about the budget, but Nolan appeared happy to discuss it.
"Our country is falling apart and they don't want to invest in it? I look forward to that debate with my opponent," Nolan said.
Republicans argue that the budget demonstrates their governing vision if they win control of the Senate in November — and the White House in 2016. Still, it means that Republican candidates now face questions about their support for specific parts of the budget that may not be popular with voters.
In particular, Ryan proposes giving seniors the option to get a voucher to buy private health insurance rather than go on Medicare. Opinion polls generally show little public support for the proposal.
"I think everything needs to be on the table, whether it's vouchers or other forms to address long-term entitlements," said Mike McFadden, one of the GOP candidates who hopes to unseat DFL Sen. Al Franken, when asked about the Medicare plan.
Another Republican Senate contender, state Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, didn't respond to interview requests.
It's not just Medicare that could come up on the campaign trail. The Republican budget proposes cutting an estimated $23 billion from crop insurance and other farm programs.
GOP state Sen. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake is challenging 12-term DFL Rep. Collin Peterson in the rural 7th District and declined to say whether he supported the proposed cuts to crop insurance subsidies.
"We know we can't continue on the path we are going down right now," said Westrom, who emphasized his support for the rural safety net.
Minnesota 2nd District Republican Rep. John Kline has voted for the Ryan budget every year since 2011. He points out that budgets are big picture documents that lay out a vision while individual spending bills fill in the details.
"Because someone supports the budget doesn't mean that they're going to support every single detail in that budget," Kline said.
That, however, doesn't sit well with 4th District DFL Rep. Betty McCollum. She's the only member of the delegation who sits on the Appropriations Committee, which writes spending bills, and she's a former member of the Budget Committee.
Last year, she recalled, House Republicans attempted to pass appropriations bills based on the spending targets established by the 2013 Ryan budget. That process fell apart when many Republicans refused to vote on bills that cut too deeply into domestic priorities such as transportation.
"It's quite obvious that they can't even lead their own caucus with these off-the-chart crazy cuts that they make," she said.
McCollum, though, worries that by voting on a partisan budget this year, Republicans are trying to undermine last year's deal, which could set up another potential government shutdown fight later this year.
The budget has become a process used to excite core supporters from both parties, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
In fact, Democrats have been using the Ryan budget all week to raise money online.
Kondik says House Republicans haven't seen any political fallout from past budgets and don't expect any this time around either.
"The Ryan budget's not going to become law," Kondik said. "It's all just kind of posturing when you have divided government."