House Budget Committee chairman  Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has turned so "toxic" he can’t get away from the protests that began when he came home last month to try to sell his plan to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

And it is starting to cost him politically. 

The former "golden boy" of national Republican politics has tarnished his brand to such an extent that, on Tuesday, he had to relinquish his long-cherished dream of running for the U.S. Senate to replace Democratic Senator Herb Kohl.

Kohl is stepping down in 2012 but, after a brief flirtation with the prospect, Ryan signaled that he will skip the contest — effectively giving up on any chance of becoming a senator in the foreseeable future.

Instead, Ryan says, he will focus on trying to revive his budget plan, which after earning an endorsement from House Republicans has stalled in the face of broad national opposition to his proposal to end Medicare and Medicaid as they are known and use the federal money to bail out for-profit insurancee companies.

So far, Ryan’s campaign to renew support for his plan is going about as well as his aborted Senate campaign. 

In Chicago, where the Budget Committee chair began his big bad bummer of a week, nothing went as planned.

Ryan fled to get the Windy City to get as far as he could from the criticism of his approach — seeking the warm embrace of a speech invite from the conservative crowd at the Economic Club of Chicago.

But before he got to the safe confines of the club, Ryan was greeted by a crowd of protesters.

The signs read:

“Hands off my Medicare!”

“Hands off my Social Security!” 

“Paul Ryan Plan: Let Them Eat Cat Food.”

Inside the event, Ryan spoke of “empowering Americans to fight back against skyrocketing costs.” That is his Orwellian way of saying, “We’re going to make you buy insurance from for-profit companies.”

Ryan also said: “Our reforms save the social safety net by giving more power to governors to create strong, flexible programs that better serve the needs of their populations.” That’s an even more Orwellian way of saying that he wants to provide federal tax dollars to governors who will be allowed to lower standards and privatize programs. 

Faced with so much criticism, Ryan has to be waking up to the reality that his plan is doomed. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a notorious GOP bomb-thrower, says Ryan’s assault on Medicare goes “too far.”

That may explain the congressman’s defensiveness.

Criticizing his critics, Ryan told the crowd in Chicago: “There’s a civic side to this as well. Sowing social unrest and class envy makes America weaker, not stronger.”

But it is not class warfare to defend sound federal programs — or to question those who would gut these programs in order to shift money to private firms that happen to provide a lot of money to politicians.

Politicians like Paul Ryan.

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