Getting BTU’d

GETTING BTU’D…. In 1993, President Bill Clinton pressed congressional Democrats to vote for proposal to tax the heat content of fuels — the so-called “BTU tax.” Rank-and-file House Dems didn’t like it, but many of them grudging went along, following Clinton’s lead. A few months later, budget talks stalled in the Senate, and the White House felt it had no choice but to drop the BTU measure.

A year later, vulnerable House Dems were slammed with attack ads for having voted for the measure — and having nothing to show for it — and the issue likely contributed to Democrats losing their majority in 1994.

With that in mind, Karen Tumulty asked today, “Is it possible that House Republicans got ‘BTUed’ on Medicare?”

Oh, it’s more than possible.

As of this afternoon, Republicans appear to be in full retreat over their plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. Voters hate the idea, and Dems are using it as a cudgel to bludgeon GOP members. But the retreat doesn’t change the problem for vulnerable Republicans — they already voted to end Medicare, even after telling voters last year that they wouldn’t, basically because their leadership told them they had to.

Ezra Klein explained the phenomenon of “getting BTU’d.”

In 2010, a number of House members felt BTU’d after Nancy Pelosi forced them to vote on a cap-and-trade plan that never made it to the Senate floor, but made it into a lot of their reelection campaigns. But it’s not clear how much cap-and-trade — or, for that matter, the BTU tax — actually mattered in the subsequent election.

But Ryan’s Medicare plan will be a core part of the Democratic message in 2012. This could be a BTUing at a whole other level.

And Dems couldn’t be happier about it.

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Steve Benen

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.