Ryan: More spending is not the answer
"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 following 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."
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 is also 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."
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 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 non-defense discretionary spending (the area of the budget Republicans have so far targeted) to cut" and still make a significant dent in the deficit.