It wasn’t quite party-line — four Republicans (Ron Paul among them) joined the Democrats in opposition — but it was awfully close, an amazing achievement for the House GOP given the potential toxicity of this vote. DCCC chief Steve Israel is already chortling that today’s roll will return Democrats to the majority, a distinct possibility once The One hones his Mediscaring technique on the stump. But that’s beside the point: This debate has to happen and there’s no other way to force it. Obama’s perfectly content to let the country’s finances continue to melt down as long as he gets reelected, something even his pal Alan Simpson now seems to recognize, so unless the “Gang of Six” pulls a rabbit out of its hat, this is it. If doing nothing to reduce the country’s catastrophic debt except lying about the rich’s capacity to pay it down turns out to be a big political winner for Democrats, then good luck to them. I’m sure they’ll do a fine job implementing America’s emergency austerity plan a few years from now.

Philip Klein gives credit where it’s due:

Traditionally, the obstacle to getting either party to embrace entitlement reform was that there was a risk to going on record as wanting to change these popular programs , while doing nothing was safe. However, at least for Republicans, that dynamic has shifted, and doing nothing is politically risky. And the credit for that development goes to the Tea Parties for putting pressure on Republicans to get serious about spending.

The Ryan budget will not become law in its current state as long as Obama is president. While the prevailing wisdom is that this vote could make Republicans more vulnerable in 2012, the flip side is that if Democrats pull out all the stops to demagogue the issue, and House Republicans hang on and the GOP even gains Senate seats, it will end the third-rail status of these entitlement programs that, if unchanged, will rob future generations of the American Dream.

There will be a lot of opportunities to criticize GOP leaders going forward, but today, they deserve a pat on the back.

I’d kill to know what serious centrist Democrats like Hoyer and Shuler and Mark Warner really think of Ryan’s plan. No doubt they have earnest concerns about parts of it — so do conservatives, frankly — but they also know the fiscal stakes and surely realize that the Lightbringer will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to get him to act. Even the Gang of Six can’t believe that his response to the failure of the Deficit Commission is to … appoint another commission. But that’s what we elected. And given the tidal wave of demagoguery to come, he’s probably the guy we’ll elect again. Good luck, America.

Here’s Ryan’s floor speech today. The Democrats had some fun with him on an earlier vote by almost letting the Republican Study Committee’s even more conservative budget pass instead.