WASHINGTON-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., isn't running for president, even after wheedling from top Republicans, but he gave the GOP's full-throttled response to President Obama's aggressive rhetoric of late in a high profile speech at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday.
"Look, we put our cards on the table," Ryan said about the Republican proposal to slash the national debt through entitlement reform. "But instead of working together where we agree, the president has opted for divisive rhetoric and the broken politics of the past. He is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators."
In the last two weeks the president has traveled through key reelection states-North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, and California-and ratcheted up his attacks on Republicans. At the beginning of his bus tour through North Carolina last week, Obama described the GOP's economic plan thus: "Let's have dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance."
In his a speech to a crowd at the Asheville, N.C., airport, the president said, "The Republican plan says that what's been standing in the way between us and full employment are laws that keep companies from polluting as much as they want. On the other hand, our plan puts teachers, construction workers, firefighters, and police officers back on the job. Their plan says the big problem we have is that we helped to get 30 million Americans health insurance. They figure we should throw those folks off the health insurance rolls. Somehow that's going to help people find jobs."
Ryan retorted, "The president's political math is a muddled mix of false accusations and false choices," adding that said the "American idea" is not predicated on class warfare but "civic solidarity."
"We shouldn't be surprised" by the president's rhetoric, Ryan said, "But we have every right to be disappointed. Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were hallmarks of his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and resentment."
House Republicans haven't been a picture of compromise with the president in any instance, from spending bills to the debt ceiling talks, but they also didn't campaign on compromise. Obama previously had projected the image of the reconciler over a bitterly divided Congress, until the past couple weeks, when he began repeatedly accusing Republicans of being the party of the strong over and against the weak.
"The president has wrongly framed Republican efforts to get government spending under control as hard-hearted attacks on the poor," Ryan said. "In reality, spending on programs for seniors and for lower-income families continues to grow every year under the House-passed budget-it just grows at a sustainable rate. Throughout human history, the American idea has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed."
The "true sources of inequity in this country," Ryan continued, are "corporate welfare that enriches the powerful and empty promises that betray the powerless."
House Republicans, recognizing the hurdles of communicating a controversial budget, have posted wonky videos on YouTube, where Ryan explains their plan with animated charts. The video about their budget, posted in April (see the video clip below), has more than 220,000 views-most congressional committee videos get a few hundred, maybe a few thousand views.
While the parties are locked in controversy over federal spending, communication to the public has become key. Ryan said Wednesday that it takes "three or four sentences of facts and reason" to combat one "emotion-laden sentence." And he acknowledged, "Both parties have done that."
"I'm a Jack Kemp Republican," Ryan said. (He actually worked for a time as a speechwriter for the onetime vice presidential nominee.) "What that means is ... extending economic growth and opportunity to places in America that have never seen it before."