Taking the bait?

TAKING THE BAIT?…. The Obama White House and congressional Democrats have hardly been subtle about what they want from Republicans. As the president told donors at a party fundraiser last night, “To a bunch of the critics out there, I’ve already said, ‘Show me your budget!’ I’m happy to have that debate.”

Dems have been asking, practically begging, Republicans to put up or shut up. Every single time the minority party attacks the administration’s budget, Democrats respond, “At least we’re governing. Republicans have no ideas of their own.” The charge has started to stick, and GOP leaders haven’t come up with a compelling retort.

This week, it seems the Republican Party is taking the bait.

House Republicans have begun unveiling detailed alternatives to President Barack Obama’s policies — a concerted effort to push back against Democratic efforts to label them “the Party of No.”

On Wednesday, it was a housing plan. Thursday, it will be a big, TV-friendly stack of budget blueprints, “The Republican Road to Recovery.” That’s to match the president’s own platitudinous budget title, “A New Era of Responsibility.”

The House Republicans’ budget document, provided to POLITICO ahead of its release, makes sure no one can miss the point: Each chapter begins “The Republican Plan,” and each section is divided into “The President’s Budget” and “Republicans’ Solution.”

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the housing proposal that he rolled out with eight other House Republicans on Tuesday was “in response to the administration — and the president himself, who continues to say that Republicans don’t have any ideas.” … The documents — and the showmanship in releasing them — are the result of frustration by GOP leaders who repeatedly hear on TV that they have no alternatives.

In other words, Republicans are letting the White House set the terms of the debate, and they’re struggling to keep up.

Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said at the news conference with Cantor, “Welcome to the next installment of the party of yes.” It’s the kind of comment that reflects playing defense — Obama and his allies kept pushing Republicans to come up with some ideas of their own, so GOP leaders are doing what Democratic leaders have asked. Pence told reporters yesterday, “Contrary to the administration’s straw man diversions, Republicans do have our own ideas,” reinforcing the defensive nature of their approach.

As far as the larger strategy, this is exactly what Democrats wanted to see. Indeed, there’s a reason the White House and Democratic leaders kept pushing to see the GOP’s alternative budget, and it’s not because the majority party was sincerely looking for good ideas to incorporate into the finished product.

Rather, there’s two parts to this. The first is that Republicans defending their agenda have less time to attack the Democratic agenda. The second is that the Republican agenda is a series of old and ineffective cliches — tax cuts, entitlement cuts, and drilling American coasts for oil. The Democratic plan looks pretty good, but it’ll look especially good when compared to the GOP’s proposal.

The White House team was likely worried that Republicans would forgo an alternative agenda and force the president and his allies to focus on controversial parts of the Obama budget. If the GOP is now worried about proving that they have their own ideas, and are prepared to debate them, those White House worries are no doubt dissipated.

Note to party activists everywhere: when your top rivals are begging you to do something, it’s rarely a good idea to take their advice.