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Congressman Paul Ryan on NBC’s Meet the Press

‘We need a clean break from the politics of the past’

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April 10, 2011 | comments
One-on-one with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan

Meet the Press transcript for April 10, 2011
David Plouffe, Paul Ryan, Tim Shriver, Jim Cramer, Helene Cooper, Chuck Todd

MR. GREGORY:  We turn now to the other side of the aisle, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. RYAN:  Thanks for having me.  Good to be here.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to start with you where I started with Mr.  Plouffe. How much responsibility do Republicans take for this spectacle of a near shutdown of the government?  And shouldn't you all be embarrassed?

REP. RYAN:  Well, we're here because the Democrats didn't pass a budget last year.  I mean, for the first time since 1974, the House didn't even bother to try passing a budget last year.  So that's why we're here.  Now, I feel like we had a pretty good outcome.  We represented one-third of the negotiators, but we got two-thirds of the spending cuts we were asking for.  This is really still a drop in the bucket.  We want to move from talking about saving billions of dollars to going on to saving trillions of dollars.

MR. GREGORY:  And that's, indeed, what's in the substance of your budget.

REP. RYAN:  The budget.  That's right.

MR. GREGORY:  But what about the debt ceiling fight?  The front page of the paper this morning, that's the next big fight ahead.  You heard Senator Hutchinson say that's going to be Armageddon.  What has to happen for you and others to be satisfied that, OK, we can raise the debt ceiling?

REP. RYAN:  Well, I'm pleased with what David Plouffe just said because I think that was a policy change.  Tim Geithner's always been saying he wants just a stand-alone debt ceiling increase.  We've never been in favor of that. Now he's saying things can go as a part of this.  So we believe, accompanying any debt ceiling, you need real fiscal reforms, real spending cuts, and real spending controls going forward so we can deal with the debt in the future. The debt ceiling is hitting 14 trillion in probably the end of May because of past spending.  We want to make sure that future spending doesn't give us this problem in the future.

MR. GREGORY:  But will there be specific reforms or cuts that have to be in place?

REP. RYAN:  Yes, I think so.  I think that is what we're looking for.


REP. RYAN:  Well, we--I don't want to get into our negotiations, but real spending cuts and real spending controls, real caps on spending going forward so we can take pressure off the debt and get this country on the right fiscal path.

MR. GREGORY:  But what's to think that we're not going to be right back to where we were this week when the next bigger fight over bigger numbers comes to pass?

REP. RYAN:  I'm not saying we're not going to be.  I think there will be some kind of negotiations.  And, yes, it probably will go up to some sort of a deadline.  The debt ceiling deadline is a moving deadline.  It's not a date certain deadline like the government shutdown.  Our strategy is not to default.  Our strategy is to get spending under control.

MR. GREGORY:  Let's talk about--I mean, this is the political environment that you're operating in as you produce the Path to Prosperity...

REP. RYAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  ...your budget vision for next year.

REP. RYAN:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  And it was very interesting.  A Republican adviser to President Bush and to John McCain, Mark McKinnon, was quoted in Time magazine saying the following about your budget outline, and I want to put it up on the screen. "[It] will completely transform the fiscal debate." This is Mark McKinnon. "It will either be the brilliant blaze that illuminates Republican courage or a roaring fire that immolates the party in a spectacular political suicide." How's that for choices?

REP. RYAN:  Yeah.  I've heard this before.

MR. GREGORY:  Which is it?

REP. RYAN:  I've heard this before.  Look, it really doesn't matter to me. What matters is we try to fix the country's problems.  Look, let me just show you.  This is the debt that the CBO says we're going to have.  We're giving our children a lower standard of living.  Our plan pays the debt off.  So we really believe we need to own up to the fact that the country is on an unsustainable path and we've got to do something to fix this.

MR. GREGORY:  But you're the budget chairman, you have your charts, I understand.  But you also...

REP. RYAN:  I've got many more if you want me to...

MR. GREGORY:  I know you do.  But I know you also have a reality.  You just heard David Plouffe say...

REP. RYAN:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...this isn't going to pass.

REP. RYAN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  This might pass the House, it's not going to pass the Senate. It's certainly not going to become law.

REP. RYAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  Is this more of a campaign document for 2012?

REP. RYAN:  No, not at all.  We need a clean break from the politics of the past.  Both parties do this to each other.  Both parties use hyper rhetoric, both parties use all of this demagoguery.  And what happens?  We have political paralysis and we don't fix the country's problems, but we have a debt crisis staring us in the face.

MR. GREGORY:  And let...

REP. RYAN:  And that's what's got to get fixed.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let's--and let's talk about some of the details and then, and then go through some of the items that are in your plan, just to give our viewers some context.  We'll put it up on the screen.  You cut, as part of your proposal, $6.2 trillion over 10 years.  With regard to Medicare, starting in 2022, would no longer be an open-ended entitlement, which we'll talk about. Medicaid would also be changed.  It would become a block grant to states, 750 billion cut over 10 years.  Taxes.  The Bush tax cuts would be made permanent. Something you should know the president opposes.  And for individuals and businesses, the top rate would be cut to 25 percent from 35 percent.  Now you can expect that Democrats would come out and oppose this.

REP. RYAN:  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  And to your mind, even demagogue it.  But here was a response, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of the bipartisan Debt Commission...

REP. RYAN:  Friends of mine.

MR. GREGORY:  ...and this is what they said in part.  Let me put it on the screen.  "The plan," your plan, "largely exempts defense spending from reductions and would not apply any of the savings from eliminating or reducing tax expenditures as part of tax reform to deficit reduction.  As a result, [it] relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the Commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety net programs - cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations." They're making the same point that the White House, which is that this is on the backs of the poor and the middle class.  This is not a shared sacrifice document.

REP. RYAN:  Actually, if you read that earlier part of their statement, they said it's an honest, serious, incredible proposal.  A couple of things:  We basically take the thrust of the--I was on the fiscal commission, we agree...

MR. GREGORY:  You voted against it, its recommendations.

REP. RYAN:  I did vote against it because it didn't do anything about healthcare costs, which is the big driver of our debt.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

REP. RYAN:  But we also--our tax reform plan goes in the same direction, which is get rid of all those special interest loopholes so you can lower tax rates.  It's the higher income earners who use those special interest loopholes.  Get rid of the loopholes, lower the rates, make our economy more competitive.  Flatter, fairer, simpler tax system.  With respect to the safety net, our goal is to repair the safety net, make it more sustainable.  Safety net spending grows every year under this budget.  Medicare, Medicaid spending grows every year under this budget.  What we're trying to do here is save Medicare and Medicaid so that they're sustainable.  But also, the safety net is tearing apart at the seams.  We want to fix the safety net.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  I--and I want to break that down.  I want to break that down a little bit more.  But let me just stop you on the tax issue.

REP. RYAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  Do taxes, at some point, have to be raised if you're really getting--going to get into the realm of asking something of the American people, shared sacrifice, not just helping upper earners?

REP. RYAN:  Shared sacrifice, meaning sort of indiscriminate cuts across the board, is what you do when you're in a debt crisis.  What we're trying to do is pre-empt a debt crisis.  So there's two things we're trying to keep our eye on the ball on:  spending cuts and economic growth.  The problem with a bunch of tax increases--the president just raised taxes $800 billion, he's calling for new $1.5 trillion in tax increases--you slow down economic growth.  We want job creation, economic growth, and that's why if you go down the tax increase path you're sacrificing the economy; and especially when the fact that the problem we have is spending, not taxes.  Spending's the root cause of our deficit and debts.  Every time we run a big deficit means more tax increases.

MR. GREGORY:  But in an economic downturn you can't cut your way to a balanced budget.  How do you do that?

REP. RYAN:  You--we don't--look, we take $6.2 trillion of spending out of the president's baseline, meaning we bring spending down toward its historic levels.  The president is proposing to keep government as large as it's ever been forever.  We don't think the answer to prosperity is borrowing and spending more money, we got to get our spending under control because that's the root cause of our problem.  And yes, if you get deficit reduction and deficit--and the debt under control, that's going to help the economy today.

MR. GREGORY:  But still no tax cuts in the future even?

REP. RYAN:  We're talking about tax reform.

MR. GREGORY:  Tax--I'm sorry, tax, tax hikes in the future?

REP. RYAN:  We're--no, we're talking about tax reform.  Look, we have to recognize the fact that we're in global competition.  We're competing against China and India.  And when we tax our job creators more than they tax theirs, we lose, they win, and we don't want that to happen.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, let me talk more specifically about Medicare and try to provide a little bit more clarity on this.  I'm going to put something up that the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday.  And here's the headline, "GOP's budget shifts health burden; The plan reduces the federal government's role in Medicaid and Medicare in an effort to trim $5.8 trillion." It goes on to say the following:  "The GOP proposal would phase out direct payments to doctors and hospitals under Medicare, scale back the Medicaid program for the poor and the disabled, throw out government insurance subsidies that the new healthcare law is to make available to millions of Americans starting in 2014. That would force seniors to pay more for health care and would likely make states cut back their Medicaid programs." That's according to government auditors, the Congressional Budget Office.  Is that not a reality?

REP. RYAN:  I'd just say a few things.  Number one, Medicaid's broken, and throwing more money in a broken system doesn't work.  We've gotten dozens of letters from governors saying, "Give us the freedom to fix Medicaid our own way in our own states." And we're giving them that freedom, and Medicaid grows at a more sustainable rate.  Yes, we do repeal the president's healthcare law because we have just profound disagreements with it.  Four facts on Medicare: Fact number one, when Medicare was created, you know, men were living in their 60s, women were living in their 70s, now men are living in their 80s and--or in their 70s and women are living in their 90s.  We had--baby boomers were in their teens and there were babies when this thing started.  Now they're doubling the size of retirement we have.  The price controls in Medicare today are causing doctors to stop seeing patients and Medicare is the biggest contributor to skyrocketing healthcare costs.  Price controls, which is the current plan in Medicare, doesn't work.  What we think works to bring down price costs is competition.  And we want to give seniors the power, the tools, through competition, to bring down costs.

MR. GREGORY:  But there's a lot of talk about giving them the power and the tools.  A couple of points on that.  First of all, didn't liberals win this argument when you tried--when Republicans tried to overhaul Social Security through private accounts, that look at the vagaries of the markets and what would have happened to seniors then.  Here...

REP. RYAN:  Very different...

MR. GREGORY:  Well...

REP. RYAN:  ...comparison.  I think that's kind of a non sequitor.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let, let, let--let's accept it for the moment and then you can take it on.

REP. RYAN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  Because I'm not sure it is a non sequitor because it's talking about the private marketplace.  And, in this case, the healthcare industry is somehow...

REP. RYAN:  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  ...leaving seniors in the hands of the private healthcare market with a defined benefit.  You're changing Medicare as we know it.  Why, why don't you agree...

REP. RYAN:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...with government auditors who say the prices are going to go up for seniors?

REP. RYAN:  Listen to what government auditors are also saying, the biggest threat to Medicare is the status quo.  Medicare is going bankrupt in nine years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  So what are we doing? We're preserving and protecting it.  No change occurs to Medicare for anybody who's on Medicare or 10 years away from retiring.  And, for future generations, what we are proposing is a personalized Medicare, a Medicare system that works exactly like the health care I have as a member of Congress and federal employees have.  It would look like the prescription drug benefit or Medicare Advantage.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

REP. RYAN:  So we already have these kinds of ideas in practice.  I mean, prescription drug benefit came in 40 percent below cost projections because it harnessed the power of choice and competition.  We want to have comprehensive Medicare plans available to future seniors that they can pick from and have these plans compete against each other for their benefit.  It works with federal employees, it works with the prescription drug benefit, and more to the point, it saves Medicare.

MR. GREGORY:  But let me ask you this, is tax reform more doable, say, next year than entitlement reform in a--in an election year?

REP. RYAN:  You know, it's a good question.  I don't really know because the president punted on these issues.  He gave us a budget that didn't deal with any of the drivers of our debt.  It doubles the debt in the--in his first term, triples it at the end of his budget.  Corporate tax reform, I think, from just--I'm a member of the Ways and Means Committee as well--that is an area where I think everybody agrees it's hurting job creation.  And I think there's a decent chance--the tax reforms we have here are along the lines of the fiscal commission reforms, so that is one area where I'd still hold out some hope.  I also think Social Security reform...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

REP. RYAN:  ...hopefully is an area where we might have a shot at a bipartisan agreement this summer.

MR. GREGORY:  The--I think the bigger issue for a lot of people--look what's happened this past week.

REP. RYAN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  What do the American people want?  They want more compromise between the two sides.

REP. RYAN:  That's right.

MR. GREGORY:  And if you, if you look at this budget, you're getting a lot of plaudits for being bold and for being courageous, but this is also an ideological document when it comes to taxes, when it comes to not going very far on cutting defense spending beyond what Secretary Gates has proposed.  How about--you want to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants, when there is no market other than those two for, for mortgages right now.

REP. RYAN:  That's one of the options the Treasury Department published as something they would consider doing.

MR. GREGORY:  But the point is that this--don't, don't the American people want more compromise than is...

REP. RYAN:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...embedded in this document?

REP. RYAN:  So they don't want us yelling at each other, they want a clean break from the politics of the past, and they want us getting on to a fact-based conversation about how to fix this country's problems.  There's four things we're trying to do with this budget:  Get the economy growing; get people back to work; save our Social Security, Medicare, our retirement programs for this generation and future generations; repair the social safety net so that it works, not to encourage people to go on welfare but to get back on their feet; and pay off this debt.  This plan using CBO numbers gets the debt paid off so our children--you and I are the same age with the same age of children--we want to give our children a debt-free nation.  That's what this plan does.  I think that's what the country wants, they want growth, they want a debt-free nation, they want government to begin living within its means and stop spending money we don't have.

MR. GREGORY:  The problem that you've always had is that Republicans love to talk about you as a smart guy with really good ideas, but they don't actually support you.

REP. RYAN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  You had 14 co-sponsors the last time you tried this.

REP. RYAN:  That's up from eight the session before.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, right.

REP. RYAN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman Pence is, is saying--a, a key member in the caucus--he'll probably not vote for this compromise.  Who's with you?

REP. RYAN:  You're, you're talking about the CR.

MR. GREGORY:  In Congress and, and, and outside.

REP. RYAN:  We will find out on Friday.  This budget comes to the floor Thursday and Friday.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

REP. RYAN:  I think what Mike Pence is talking about...

MR. GREGORY:  He's talking about the current, the current...

REP. RYAN:  …is probably the continuing resolution...


REP. RYAN:  Yeah, the, the deal that Boehner got with, with the president. This budget we had unanimous Republican vote in the Budget Committee just this week.  This will be on the floor Thursday and Friday, and I expect we will pass this from the Republican caucus on Friday.

MR. GREGORY:  What about members who are running for the presidency?  Who's with you on this?  Will this be something that they carry forward?

REP. RYAN:  Well, you know, I don't really pay attention to all that. Honestly, I'm busy trying to write a budget.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

REP. RYAN:  But I've, I've heard...

MR. GREGORY:  But you can't operate in a political vacuum...

REP. RYAN:  Sure, sure, sure.  It's...

MR. GREGORY:  ...if you want it to become law.

REP. RYAN:  But I've heard that all of our presidential candidates have been extremely supportive of it, have put out great statements in support of this.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Chairman Ryan, we'll keep tabs on it.

REP. RYAN:  Thanks, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Thank you very much for being here.  Appreciate it.

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