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Paul Ryan wants Republicans to focus on core economic issues to increase appeal

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January 30, 2013 | comments

By DEE J. HALL, Wisconsin State Journal

About $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts will be triggered in March, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan predicted Tuesday, but he said that "doesn't even come close" to fixing the nation's debt problem over the next 10 years.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board, Ryan discussed upcoming federal budget battles, his surprise at losing his vice presidential bid, support for immigration reform gaining steam in the U.S. Senate and the need for the Republican Party to focus on core economic and financial principles rather than a "19-multi-point litmus test" including opposition to abortion and other social issues — a theme he sounded in recent speeches to conservatives.

The series of automatic spending cuts kicks in because the so-called congressional "super committee" failed in 2011 to reach agreement on a deficit and long-term debt reduction plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that lawmakers should redouble their efforts to replace looming across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs set to take effect March 1 with alternative spending cuts and tax hikes.

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said his highest priority is to "buy the country time" with measures that will reduce its $16 trillion debt. Ryan's budget proposals have in the past drawn praise from conservatives but have been strongly criticized by Democrats who say they would shred the social safety net.

Ryan, R-Janesville, said Republicans who control the House of Representatives must offer solutions to rein in federal spending, help the economy grow and reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Otherwise, he said, the United States is heading toward a European-style debt crisis.

"I don't see this as a gloom-and-doom alarmist message," he said. "Really what we're talking about is a combination of growth, spending cuts and entitlement reforms."

The 43-year old congressman also said he believes his and Romney's message of fiscal restraint did resonate with many voters.

But, "There are areas where we need to do a better job of broadening our appeal to nontraditional voters so that they can see this message," he said, mentioning issues including school choice and improving skills training for the unemployed.

Ryan also predicted President Barack Obama's signature health care program will "collapse of its own weight" beginning next year as millions of workers are dumped from employer-subsidized health care plans into government-organized private health-insurance exchanges under Obamacare. "We were hoping to win the election and spare the country of this moment that's coming," Ryan said.

On other topics, the eight-term congressman said:

  • He and Romney were confident until late on Election Day that they were headed for victory. "Republican polling was all wrong. The turnout models that all Republican pollsters used did not fully appreciate or measure the phenomenal job the Obama campaign did on turnout," he said.

  • He supports reforms to the U.S. immigration system. "I think there are some in the Hispanic population who I think unfairly believe Republicans are not the party of immigrants, and we are. We ought to clear that up," said Ryan, whose ticket got just 27 percent of the Latino vote.

  • It's "premature" to discuss any possible run for president in 2016.

  • Republicans need to be "tolerant" of dissenting views within their party. "If you believe in the core principles of our party — equality of opportunity, social mobility, limited government, free enterprise, self determination — then we want you," Ryan said. "We will just agree to disagree on these other issues."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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