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Cagey Obama Sets Election Trap for Paul Ryan and the Koch Brothers

In attacking Paul Ryan's horrendous budget plan, Obama has found his proxy for taking on the Koch machine.

Republicans are far from figuring out who will be their next presidential candidate, but Barack Obama has already decided who he's running against: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a guy who isn't even in the running -- at least not yet.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, it was Ryan who put forth the draconian budget onto which nearly all House Republicans signed -- a budget that would effectively end Medicare through a privatization scheme. The reasons why Republicans joined their names to such a politically risky proposition are several, but not least among them is the fact that Ryan is a favorite of David Koch and Americans For Prosperity. So, in his campaign against the Ryan plan, Obama has found his proxy for taking on the Koch machine.

By baiting Ryan to present his budget plan before the administration unveiled its own, Obama deftly played Ryan's own star-pupil, parent-pleasing nature against the eager Wisconsinite. When the president unveiled his own budget plan at a televised speech two weeks ago in Washington, he invited Ryan as his guest, and then issued a broadside against Ryan's plan, saying it was "less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America."

"There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," Obama continued, as Ryan looked helpless on. "And I don't think there's anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know."

The Republican was clearly taken aback. "When the president reached out to ask us to attend his speech, we were expecting an olive branch," Ryan told McClatchy Newspapers. "Instead, his speech was excessively partisan, dramatically inaccurate, and hopelessly inadequate to address our fiscal crisis. What we heard today was not fiscal leadership from our commander-in-chief; we heard a political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief."

Since then, Obama has continued to hammer away at Ryan. On the campaign trail in California, Obama used the words "fairly radical" to describe the Ryan plan.  "I wouldn't call it particularly courageous," Obama said. And a CBS News open mic caught Obama, the day after the president's budget speech, going after Ryan personally. McClatchy's Steve Thomma reported Obama's remarks this way:

"When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, you know, he's just being America's accountant …," Obama said in remarks taped through an open microphone by CBS reporter Mark Knoller, "this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill -- but wasn't paid for. So it's not on the level. And we've got to keep on, you know, keep on shining a light on that."

Thomma writes that, while making those remarks, Obama assumed he was off the record. Me, I'm not so sure. Strikes me as the sound of a gauntlet hitting the ground.

While playing against Ryan, who comes off as likably earnest, is not without its risks, issue polling is playing in Obama's favor, even if his personal approval numbers sink in the face of rising gas prices. Ryan's plan, for instance, extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while a spate of recent polls show the public is ready to hike taxes on those who are doing more than all right while the rest of the country struggles. An ABC News/ Washington Post poll found 72 percent of Americans support tax hikes for the wealthy -- with even a majority of Republicans in agreement. From the Washington Post: