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Ryan disputes Obama's plans

Janesville Republican says investments are spending by another name

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January 26, 2011 | comments

By Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel

Delivering the GOP response to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Janesville Republican Paul Ryan said the nation was on a path toward fiscal calamity, and he pledged his party's commitment to curb government and cut spending.

"We still have time ... but not much time" to avoid the fate of crisis economies such as Greece and Ireland, said Ryan, the House budget committee chairman. "Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner. That is why we must act now."

Ryan's nationally televised remarks after the State of the Union address mixed conciliatory notes with a stark portrayal of the differences between the parties and an even starker picture of the nation's current path.

He dismissed the president's talk Tuesday of targeted investments as big spending by another name, saying Democrats "want a federal government that controls too much, taxes too much and spends too much in order to do too much."

He said Republicans want to work with Obama to curb spending and avert "catastrophic" levels of future debt. He acknowledged Republican complicity in the government's red ink.

"Americans are skeptical of both political parties, and that skepticism is justified - especially when it comes to spending. So hold all of us accountable," he said.

But Ryan argued that the two parties today are separated by a vast philosophical gulf, leaving Americans to make a fateful choice between dramatically different visions of society. While the president sought in many respects to play down those differences in his own speech Tuesday, Ryan put them in boldface.

"Our nation is approaching a tipping point," Ryan said, in which big government and social welfare programs crowd out initiative and enterprise and lull "able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency."

While these are arguments Ryan has been making for years, the 40-year-old lawmaker was voicing them Tuesday on a far larger stage than he's accustomed to, assigned by his party's congressional leaders to be the Republican "responder."

Ryan's selection reflected his political prominence within the party and the central role the budget is playing in the political debate. While that role is further boosting his national profile, it also is fueling attacks from the other side of the aisle. Not long before Ryan spoke Tuesday night, the Democratic National Committee issued a broadside against Ryan's fiscal "roadmap," a plan that Democrats have pilloried for its sweeping changes to Medicare and Social Security and deep tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

"A few years ago, reducing spending was important," Ryan said Tuesday. "Today, it's imperative. Here's why: We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead. On this current path, when my three children - who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old - are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size and so will the taxes they pay. No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country."

Spreading the blame, Ryan said: "Our debt is the product of acts by many presidents and many Congresses over many years. No one person or party is responsible for it. There is no doubt the president came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation."

But he described Obama's response to that crisis as a "stimulus spending spree" that failed to create jobs and "plunged us even deeper into debt."

"We believe, as our founders did, that 'the pursuit of happiness' depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government," Ryan said. "The president and the Democratic leadership have shown, by their actions, that they believe government needs to increase its size and its reach, its price tag and its power."

Ryan touted the GOP's vote in the House to repeal the new health care law, saying that law is "accelerating our country toward bankruptcy." He also lauded the House vote Tuesday to direct Ryan as budget chair to cut spending to 2008 levels for many domestic programs.

"Our forthcoming budget is our obligation to you - to show you how we intend to do things differently ... how we will cut spending to get the debt down ... help create jobs and prosperity ... and reform government programs," Ryan said. "If we act soon, and if we act responsibly, people in and near retirement will be protected."

Ryan also used the speech to broadly tout a conservative vision of limited government, saying, "When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well."

Ryan's speech Tuesday came with some political risk, since at least one young GOP star before him (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal) was widely ridiculed for his performance in the same role two years ago.

After watching Ryan's speech, political scientist Lilly Goren of Carroll University in Waukesha described the lawmaker as "composed" in his delivery. "I think he acquitted himself well," she said. As for the speech itself, Goren said it provided a contrast with Obama's in more than one respect.

"Obama was really trying to present a middle way ... trying to chart a path between the (parties') differences,"said Goren.

She said Ryan's speech was much darker about the future, at least the future under Democratic policies, and was aimed at highlighting the GOP's differences with Obama.

Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore, a member of Ryan's budget committee, also said she thought Ryan presented himself well. "He is very skilled," said Moore, though she argued that "the reality is (his) numbers don't add up. There is not enough money in nondefense discretionary spending (the area of the budget Republicans have so far targeted) to cut" and still make a significant dent in the deficit.

Ryan did not use his speech to talk about spending cuts in detail.

He began his remarks on a very different subject, noting the absence in the House chamber of Democratic colleague Gabrielle Giffords, victim of the shooting spree in Tucson on Jan. 8. He praised the president for speaking "movingly" at the Arizona memorial service and said, "We all miss Gabby and her cheerful spirit; and we are praying for her return to the House chamber."

Ryan spoke from the House budget hearing room, where he holds his first committee meeting as budget chair Wednesday.


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