MERKLEY OFFERS DEMS A TEMPLATE…. When it comes to the budget fight, the Republican message is obvious. It’s backwards, bogus, and blind, but it’s also as clear as day, and every GOP official know how to repeat it.

As is too often the case, the Democratic message is all over the place. That said, if the party is looking for a rhetorical template, they could do a whole lot worse than Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore.) remarks yesterday.

“The GOP budget plan will destroy 700,000 jobs. The last thing our nation can afford right now is further job losses. We need to be creating jobs, not destroying jobs.

“There are common-sense budget cuts that could reduce our deficits without wrecking the economy or attacking working families. We can start by cutting back on the bonus tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires that Republican leaders insisted on just ten weeks ago. We could end tax subsidies for oil companies and save tens of billions of dollars in the process.

“Republican House Speaker John Boehner summarized his perspective on the Republican budget as follows: if people might lose their jobs, ‘So be it.’ You might think the House Republican leaders would show some humility after their failed agenda turned record surpluses into massive deficits in 2001, or after their policies reduced the wages of working Americans during the modest expansion in the middle of the decade, or after they burned down the economy with unregulated derivatives and predatory mortgage securities in 2008.

“Apparently not. Their proposals are exactly the same: give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest, shred the safety net, and eliminate investments that would help restore American economic leadership.”

This certainly doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, and it’s not a six-second soundbite, either. But it’s a straightforward assessment, which is (a) true; (b) aggressive; and (c) easily repeated.

Greg Sargent is left to wonder what could be, but isn’t.

It’s tempting to imagine what would happen if Dems were united behind a hard hitting message emphasizing the charges Merkley leveled here: GOP budget cuts will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. Republicans are hacking away at programs that benefit working and middle-class Americans even as they preserve tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. And Republicans have no business lecturing America with pieties about the deficit, given that their policies played a major role in creating it.

But Dems are not united behind such a message. It’s true that we’ve had some strong statements lately from Senate Dem leaders. But at the same time, we have Dem strategists privately counseling Dem officials that they face certain disaster if they aren’t seen to be wholeheartedly embracing cuts. And some “centrist” Dems are worried that they will be political toast if they don’t do everything in their power to shore up the conservative government-is-always-bad narrative.

I’d just add that recent polling should help bolster Democratic spines — Republicans are on the offensive, issuing bold ultimatums, but this only masks what is fundamentally a weak GOP position. The American mainstream prioritizes economic growth over deficit reduction, but Republicans believe the opposite. The American mainstream supports tax increases on the wealthy, defense cuts, and an end to oil industry subsidies, but Republicans believe the opposite. The American mainstream doesn’t want to see spending cuts in areas like education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and national security, Republicans believe the opposite.

Merkley’s argument is intended to put Republicans on the defensive for a change. The more Dems follow his lead, the better off they’ll be.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.