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A Conversation With Paul Ryan

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) held court with a number of right-leaning journalists and bloggers at an on-the-record briefing sponsored by the
American Spectator earlier today.  Over the course of an hour-long meeting, he defended Republican spending cuts, hammered President Obama's budget proposal, ruled out a 2012 presidential run (but sidestepped a VP question), and criticized Romneycare.  My notes from Ryan's wide-ranging remarks, which was followed by a lengthy Q & A session:

On the GOP's 2012 budget proposal
:  Ryan said he is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score of the president's proposal, which he expects to see in the next week or two.  He described the White House's budget as a "punt" in the face of a spending crisis that is pushing the country toward a "fiscal cliff."  Once the CBO offers a "baseline" from which to work, Ryan will begin crafting the Republican alternative in earnest.  He said defense cuts are on the table: "We intend to get some savings out of [the Department of Defense] moving forward."

On the ongoing 2011 federal funding battle:  The good news, Ryan said, is "we are no longer debating about how much more spending we want.  We are debating how much to cut."  He said Republicans would be happy to continue passing temporary continuing resolutions that maintain the $2 Billion-per-week clip of cuts, which keeps pace with the $61 Billion in cuts mandated in the House's seven-month 2011 spending measure.  He acknowledged that some of the controversial riders to the larger GOP-backed CR (defunding Planned Parenthood and Obamacare, to name a few) would cause "flare-ups" with Democrats as the process moves forward.  He said those elements are important to party leadership and the base, but offered the reminder that "we are in divided government.  We can't dictate what happens just out of the House of Representatives" -- perhaps hinting that the GOP might be open to conceding some ground as negotiations with Senate Democrats advance.

On entitlement reform:  "It is our intention to propose entitlement reform" in order to "prevent painful European austerity measures," Ryan said, slamming a "lack of leadership" from the White House.  He conceded that Democrats are probably lying in wait to "attack and demagogue us on entitlements," and if they do, so be it.  "Shame on them is the way I look at it.  I don't know how it'll turn out, but I know which side of history I want to be on," he said, adding that he believes Americans are ready for real leadership.  "We want to maintain a social safety net while avoiding a cradle-to-grave welfare state," he said, drawing a distinction between a responsible safety net and "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into a sense of complacency."  Ultimately, Republicans will lead with their agenda and let the chips fall where they may: "The idea of equal opportunity vs. equal outcomes is really at the core of this [debate], and in 2012, people are going to have to choose."

On Democrats' claim that GOP spending cuts could cost 700,000 jobs
:  "The multipliers [used by economist Mark Zandi and touted by Congressional Democrats] are bogus and discredited.  They are the same multipliers that projected the stimulus packages' 'investments' would prevent unemployment from penetrating 8 percent.  Most people at home don't even believe this stuff anyway, so we're not intimidated by those politically-motivated multipliers.  I don't even think we need to talk about this.  It's just not credible."

On the 2012 Republican Presidential field
:  "I don't have a strong preference right now.  I want to see what these people are made of and what they're talking about.  What matters most is conviction.  It can't just be giving [the nomination] to the next guy in line, or a personality contest.  We will lose a personality contest.  We will win an ideas contest."  He said he "highly doubts" Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will throw his hat into the ring because "he wants to fix Wisconsin." 

On Romneycare:  Ryan is not a fan: "It's not too dissimilar to Obamacare, and you probably know I'm not a big fan of Obamacare," he said.  "I don't think these mandates work.  I think [the Massachusetts system] is beginning a death spiral.  I believe in consumer-driven healthcare, and the Massachusetts plan doesn't do that.  It goes in the other direction."

On the suggestion he'd make a good Vice Presidential nominee
:  "I'll think about that when it's time to think about it.  And now is not the time to think about it.  I'm focused on 2011." 

On a possible 2012 presidential run
: "I feel like I can do more for the country and the cause where I am right now.  My head's not that big, and our kids (ages 6, 7, and 9) are too small.  I want to be in their lives.  I do not want to be away from them 7 days a week for two years."


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