When Mitt Romney taps Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate on Saturday, he is picking someone who has already tangled toe-to-toe with President Obama on several occasions, and is prepared for the bruising battle ahead.
Indeed, Mr. Obama has built up plenty of bad blood with Mr. Ryan, calling him the architect of “social Darwinism” earlier this year, stemming from the Wisconsin Republican’s budget plan.
Last year, liberal activists produced a campaign video equating Mr. Ryan’s budget plans to pushing an old lady in a wheelchair off a cliff. And Mr. Obama pointedly blasted Mr. Ryan in a closed-door meeting with donors in Chicago, saying he’s “the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill — but wasn’t paid for. So it’s not on the level. And we’ve got to keep on, you know, keep on shining a light on that.”
But Mr. Ryan has shown he’s not shy about firing back at the president, bringing both budget numbers and sharp rhetoric to the fight.
“Rather than building bridges, he’s poisoning wells,” the usually mild-mannered Mr. Ryan said. “Exploiting people’s emotions of fear, envy and anxiety is not hope; it’s not change. It’s partisanship. We don’t need partisanship. We don’t need demagoguery. We need solutions. And we don’t need to keep punting to other people to make tough decisions.”
Mr. Ryan’s first go-around with Mr. Obama came even before he became Budget Committee chairman. He was one of the Republicans invited to the White House for the 2010 summit on health care, and in six minutes sliced apart the math behind Democrats’ plans, arguing they didn’t meet the president’s own goals of cost-cutting.
Republicans feel the Ryan pick gives them an edge.
“Obama thinks he is smart and in command of the facts. Ryan actually is,” said Mike McKenna, a GOP strategist.
In tapping Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has turned the election from a referendum on Mr. Obama’s economic record into a choice between two dramatically divergent views of the government’s spending and taxes.
It also instantly elevates this year’s election beyond the name-calling and accusations of recent weeks, and gives both sides something substantive to debate.
Mr. Ryan has written two budgets, both of them passed by the House but never acted on by the Senate, that would have kept tax rates low while deeply slashing spending, including making major changes to entitlement programs.
The latest plan, which Mr. Ryan dubbed the “Path to Prosperity,” proposed turning Medicare into a voucher-like program for seniors, and overhauled Medicaid, turning the federal-state health program for the poor into a block grant to the states, similar to welfare.
His budget spends 15 percent less than Mr. Obama would over the next decade, and he would rack up $3.1 trillion in cumulative new deficits during that time, which is less than half of the deficits the White House says Mr. Obama’s budget would produce.
Over the long run Mr. Ryan’s budget would cap taxes at 19 percent of gross domestic product — slightly higher than the post-World War II average — but would bring spending down to 16 percent of GDP by 2050, which would mean cutting about 40 cents out of every dollar spent if it were to happen today.
Those moves made Mr. Ryan a target for Mr. Obama.
The president said he personally likes the congressman, but has not been shy about attacking his proposals.
In choosing Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney elevates the budget to a top issue, and highlights Senate Democrats’ failure to pass a budget for the last three years. As it spotlights Mr. Ryan’s plans, it will shed attention on Mr. Obama’s own budget, which was defeated by a vote of 99-0 in the Senate and 414-0 in the House — earning not a single Democratic vote of support.
Democrats argued the bills they were voting on weren’t actually Mr. Obama’s budget, though Republicans said the plans embodied all of the numbers and plans the president had proposed.
Mr. Ryan has been a major player in some of the big spending negotiations of recent years, including serving on — and voting against — the Bowles-Simpson commission report proposing tax increases and spending cuts to try to reduce the deficit.
But he was left out of last year’s deficit supercommittee. Wisconsin press reported that he asked to be left off the panel.