President Obama and Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, have never seen eye to eye when it comes to policy, and now that the congressman from Wisconsin is on the GOP ticket, Mr. Obama is wasting no time in going after the Republicans' popular budget man.
Mr. Obama started off a three-day swing through Iowa by road-testing his attacks on Mr. Ryan, a familiar foe and ideological opposite with whom he has tangled repeatedly over the years.
During a stop in Council Bluffs on Monday, Mr. Obama accused Mr. Ryan of opposing a major farm bill working its way through Congress and added a line to his stump speech focused on casting Mr. Ryan as the ideological leader of his party.
With farmers feeling the economic pinch of a severe drought, Mr. Obama highlighted Mr. Ryan's recent vote to block the farm bill from advancing.
"I'm told Gov. Romney's new running mate might be around Iowa these next few days, and he's one of those leaders of Congress standing in the way," Mr. Obama said.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Ryan were stumping in the Hawkeye State, where the farm bill — which contains a raft of agricultural subsidy programs as well as trade, food-safety and food-stamp provisions — has a major impact on the state's economy.
Critics of the bill, including Mr. Ryan, say the massive agricultural measure does not do enough to overhaul a wasteful system of taxpayer payouts to favored growers at a time of record federal deficits.
Reacting to the president's criticism, the Romney campaign noted that Mr. Ryan is from an agricultural state and supported disaster relief. The president's words on this subject fit his campaign's familiar pattern of one-sided storytelling, the campaign added.
"The truth is, no one will work harder to defend farmers and ranchers than the Romney-Ryan ticket," said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams. "After nearly four years of failure, it's no wonder that Barack Obama returns to the state that launched his presidential campaign with nothing more than broken promises and false attacks."
Republicans also have accused Senate Democrats of blocking a bipartisan House-passed bill aimed at helping livestock producers devastated by drought. The Democrat-controlled Senate refused to take up the bill before adjourning for the August recess.
Mr. Obama didn't focus his attacks solely on Mr. Ryan's farm bill vote. During the same speech, he called Mr. Ryan "the ideological leader of the Republican Party" and "an articulate spokesman for Romney's vision."
He said the Republican's plan to partially privatize Medicare is a dangerous and destabilizing step for middle-class seniors.
"The problem is, that vision is one that I fundamentally disagree with," Mr. Obama said. "They think if we end Medicare as we know it and make it a voucher system, this is going to lead to jobs and prosperity for everyone."
Mr. Ryan pushed back, taking Mr. Obama to task for 3½ years of out-of-control deficit spending while speaking on the Des Moines Register's soapbox at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
"We need to stop spending money we don't have," he said. "President Obama has given us four years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits, and he is making matters worse, and he is spending our children into a diminished future. We don't have to stand for that … and on Nov. 6, we're going to change that."
Mr. Romney, campaigning in Florida, also fought back against Democratic charges that the choice of Mr. Ryan is proof Republicans intend to "gut" Medicare.
"The president's idea for Medicare was to cut it by $700 billion. That's not the right answer. We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare," the candidate said.
In Iowa, Mr. Ryan was forced to shout over several hecklers, some of whom were ushered out by police. But Mr. Romney's newly announced running mate took it in stride.
"I'm from Wisconsin. We're used to this," he said in an apparent reference to the state's deep divisions over union organizing that took center stage over the past year.
Promising faster economic growth and a better standard of living for all Americans, Mr. Ryan warned against staying on the Obama path, which he said would turn the U.S. into a debt-riddled European-style welfare state.
"We want America to be that land of the free, that society with a safety net, that society with people reaching their potential, a society of people making the most of their lives," he said. "We don't want to follow Europe. We don't want a welfare state. We don't want a debt crisis. We don't want to prolong this recession. … We want to turn this thing around."
Mr. Obama and other Democrats argue that Mr. Ryan's plan for fixing the country's finances by making deep cuts to entitlement programs would weaken the social safety net and hurt the middle class, the poor and seniors the most.
Last year, liberal activists produced a campaign video equating Mr. Ryan's budget plan to pushing an old lady in a wheelchair off a cliff. Earlier this year, Mr. Obama described Mr. Ryan's budget plan as a "Trojan horse" for "social Darwinism."
The president even has blamed Mr. Ryan for single-handedly pushing Republicans to the right on entitlement cuts.
The Ryan budget, he said at an Associated Press luncheon in April, "is now the party's governing platform."
"This is what they're running on," Mr. Obama said.
Even though Mr. Obama has said he personally likes Mr. Ryan and respects him as a "family man" — a comment Mr. Obama repeated on the campaign trail Monday — their relationship took a turn for the worse when the president invited Mr. Ryan to a speech on the deficit in April 2011 at George Washington University and famously ridiculed his budget while the lawmaker from Wisconsin sat in the audience.
"This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social contract in America," Mr. Obama said at the time.
"Ronald Reagan's own budget director said there's nothing 'serious' or 'courageous' about this plan," he said. "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending $1 trillion on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don't think there's anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill."
Just two days later, Mr. Obama was caught on a live microphone at a Chicago fundraiser basically calling Mr. Ryan a phony when it comes to balancing the country's books.
"When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure that we're, you know — that he's just being America's accountant and trying to be responsible. … I mean, this is the same guy who 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 costs as much as my health care bill — but wasn't paid for," he said.
Mr. Ryan has never hesitated to defend himself and go on offense against the president with detailed budget numbers and some sharp rhetorical jabs.
Campaigning with Mr. Romney in Virginia just after introducing himself to the nation, Mr. Ryan accused Mr. Obama's campaign of going from a 2008 run based on "hope and change" to one of "attack and blame."
Mr. Ryan was more blunt earlier this year in assessing Mr. Obama's negative campaign strategy.
"Rather than building bridges, he's poisoning wells," he 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."
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