Ryan keeps plugging 'debt crisis' message
JANESVILLE Meet the new Paul Ryan, same as the old Paul Ryan.
Nearly three months after the Janesville native ran for vice president on the Republican ticket, he's back in Congress and back to the message that has kept his motor running for years: Get the country's fiscal house in order.
Rep. Paul Ryan sat down with The Gazette's editorial board Tuesday, one of his stops on a tour of news outlets in recent days.
Ryan still believes the country is headed for a debt crisis that will lead to hardship for the most vulnerable, and he's bent on preventing it. But he indicated his tactics have changed.
The tactics are to "engage the president" where possible to make things better, and when the two sides disagree, to offer alternatives, he said.
Instead of pushing for an overall solution to the national debt, he said his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee now will be to find a way to "buy the country time" to prevent a crisis and keep the economy afloat.
Ryan said he wanted to prevent a crisis from "taking down our entitlement programs, yanking retirement benefits from our current retirees and putting our economy in a real problem."
There is time to avoid a crisis, "but the window is closing," he said. He was not more specific about when a crisis might occur.
Ryan is still bent on "reforming" Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, the programs that he said are the major drivers of debt.
Ryan's tactics take into account the political realities. Republicans in Washington, D.C., control only the House of Representatives.
"We have divided government with a strong Democrat majority, and this issue—fiscal issues—we're going to have to find out how to make this work," he said.
Ryan also commented on:
-- Poverty. He said the country has lost the war on poverty. It needs a new round of welfare reform to keep benefits for people who need them in the shorter term and fight a long-term culture of dependency.
Poverty is at "a generational high," which is slowing upward mobility, he said.
"A lot of people don't know we have good ideas for this," he said of Republicans, "and we need to develop more ideas."
-- Climate change, which he said was evident from Tuesday's January rain, but he said the science does not yet conclusively show that humans are the cause.
He said if the United States institutes carbon-emission limits, that won't stop India and China, and those countries won't stop producing carbon, if carbon emissions are the problem. The result will be more jobs leaving this country.
The solution is to invest more in basic research, such as finding a way to recycle spent nuclear fuel rods, he said.
-- Immigration reform. He wants to provide a path to "legalization" without an amnesty or letting those who came here illegally "cut in line" ahead of those who did so legitimately.
A bipartisan effort on immigration reform is possible, he said, speaking before hearing President Barack Obama's Tuesday speech on the topic.
-- Energy. He said the fracking process to produce natural gas has the potential to lower energy costs, make the country a net energy exporter and lower costs to manufacturers, all of which could create an economic boom.
-- Education. He said he wants to consolidate 47 programs that help displaced workers retrain and either give block grants to let the states create their own programs or give grants to workers and let a competitive market in higher education decide what works.
-- Vice presidential bid. He said he benefited and learned much as Mitt Romney's running mate last fall. He said the electorate is "polarized," but he appreciates that people are passionate and engaged in the debate.
"I wish we would've won. The biggest regret is, Mitt would've been a great president, and I'm sad to see that he didn't make it," he said.