He wore a sweater and showed off the heavy boots he was wearing because, in the aftermath of the snow storm, this wasn’t “a wingtips day.”
He paused in mid conversation to plop a mint his mouth because “if I’m ever in the neighborhood, I always go to Real Chili.”
He poked fun at himself for being nervous when the cameras went on for his nationally-televised response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech last week.
He shrugged off talk of his political future. “When I look in the mirror, I see a broken nose and a widow’s peak. I don’t see a future president.”
But, during Rep. Paul Ryan’s “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” visit Thursday to Marquette University Law School, there was no mistaking that the Republican from Janesville regards himself as a key player in making the most crucial decisions the United States faces.
“What kind of country do we want? What kind of country do we want to give our kids?” he asked. He said if the federal government doesn’t make major changes in its spending habits, reining in the amount of debt it is incurring, coming generations will have lower standards of living and the accelerating federal debt will “swallow us down.”
Ryan is the new chairman of the House budget committee and one of the hottest figures in American politics. As budget chair, he is in a key shaper of what will happen in answering the questions he posed.
“Look, we’re cutting spending,” he said. “There’s no two ways about it.” And Ryan clearly is not going to be patient about when change will come. He is focused heavily on what can be done during federal budget process in the next several months, and he said he figures there is a window of about six months to work on issues before “the political silly season” of presidential campaigning kicks into high gear.
Ryan told Gousha he hoped he and other Republicans would be able to work on agreements with Obama and congressional Democrats on at least some important issues. “I really hope we get something done,” Ryan said. “We can’t do nothing for two years.”
He said some of the harsh descriptions by opponents of what he wants to see happen to federal spending are wrong.
“I’m a person who believes we need to have a safety net in this country,” the congressman said. People who are down need help. But, he said, if spending on programs such as Medicaid is not reduced to sustainable levels, the safety net will be shredded.
“My mom’s been on Medicare for 10 years,” he said, and he wants older Americans to have good health care – but, again, within the limits of what is financially realistic.
He said wealthier people should not receive Social Security payments that are the same size of those of less well-to-do people.
And when a man in the audience said he needs epilepsy medication that costs $3,000 a month and he was concerned that Ryan’s plan s for health insurance would leave him without coverage, Ryan responded he wanted to see people such as him have stable premiums that were allow them to keep their coverage. “Let’s have robust high-risk pools,” Ryan said.
In Washington, Ryan said, when you make proposals, such as the “Road Map” he first offered in 2008, you become the target of highly partisan attacks. But in general throughout the country – and he said Janesville is a good example — “I think people are ready for an adult conversation” about what federal programs and spending should look like.
He said he expected health care to be a defining issue in the 2012 elections. Asked by Gousha how people should sort out the competing claims about whether the health care law backed by the Obama administration would help or hurt, Ryan said, “Watch the results.” He said, “So far, the results are proving us right” when it comes to costs exceeding projections and the way private employers are reacting to the law.
For all his amiability in the hour-long session, Ryan described the 2012 elections in heavy duty terms.
“This is going to be the biggest, most impactful presidential election in the history of current generations,” he said. “This is a huge election. I see at as sort of a realignment election. I see it as where America picks the path it wants for the rest of the century.”
Given that the election will come 88 years before the end of the century, that’s quite a thought.
To view a video of “On the Issues” with Rep. Ryan, click here.
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