TAKING ADVANTAGE OF GOP FEARS OVER RYAN PLAN…. Congressional Republicans clearly like Paul Ryan’s radical House budget plan; the question is whether they’re ready to put their careers on the line by voting for it. As of last week, there was a fair amount of GOP anxiety over this.

That’s a healthy response. Paul Begala noted the other day, “I hope every vulnerable Republican in Congress signs on to the Ryan plan to kill Medicare, because we will beat ’em like a bad piece of meat.” Non-partisan election analyst Charlie Cook thinks the plan may even put the GOP’s House majority in jeopardy.

With that in mind, the New York Times is characterizing support for the Republican budget proposal a “potentially defining” vote.

Republicans acknowledge that the vote is risky, and party strategists have warned House leaders about the dangers, aides said. But Republicans are calculating that the political ground has shifted, making the public, concerned about the mounting national debt, receptive to proposals to rein in costs by reshaping the program.

Given that dismantling Medicare, as the House GOP proposes, is wildly unpopular, Republican expectations appear to be wildly out of touch. Indeed, at a certain level, the party must understand this — the GOP based much of its 2010 strategy on scaring the bejesus out of seniors, running attack ads saying Democrats “cut” Medicare.

Six months later, these same Republicans intend to eliminate Medicare altogether, replacing it with a privatized voucher system, shifting greater costs onto the elderly, and applying the difference to tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

GOP lawmakers who aren’t afraid of this vote must not be paying attention.

The angle to keep an eye on is whether the White House inadvertently lends Republicans a hand.

President Obama is expected to enter the debate over entitlement spending in a speech on Wednesday and could offer his own views on how to control Medicare costs. But he is expected to go nowhere near as far as Republicans did in the Ryan budget.

Republicans say the willingness of the White House to talk about entitlement changes could reinforce the Republican claim that steps need to be taken to preserve Medicare, limiting the ability of Democrats to attack and making the debate mainly about what the steps should be.

It’s a garbage argument, of course, since the GOP plan doesn’t cut costs and is really just looking for ways to cut taxes, not the deficit, but Republicans would still love to use Obama as cover. (“Even the president agrees with us about the need to ‘reform’ the system….”)

It’s something White House officials would be wise to remember when planning for tomorrow.

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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.