The chairman of the House budget committee said Saturday that President Obama's second term will show that the benefits of his agenda "are far less than advertised" and will open the door for Republicans to show voters that "given the chance, we can govern."
Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, told the crowd gathered at the National Review Institute summit in Washington, D.C., that Republicans spent Mr. Obama's first term arguing against "big government in theory," and the second term they will be arguing against "big government in practice."
"Obamacare is no longer a 2,000-page bill. Now it is 13,000 pages of regulations, and it is growing," he said, adding that the cost of the health-care overhaul and Mr. Obama's agenda are "huge."
"We spend $1 trillion more than we take in each year," Mr. Ryan said. "We can't keep that up. If we stay on this path, we will run the risk of a debt crisis. What is that? That is when our finances collapse, our economy stalls. We will have to convince the country to change course. We have to reform entitlements, and ultimately we have to revisit the health-care law."
The Wisconsin Republican is settling back into his day job following the November election, where Mr. Obama defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and handed Mr. Ryan the first loss of his political career.
Almost overnight, the talk quickly turned to whether Mr. Ryan, who hung onto his House seat, will pursue the party's presidential nomination in 2016 — putting him in the same boat as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Over the next four years of the Obama administration, Mr. Ryan said that Republicans will need to move forward with "prudence."
"When we see an opening — however small — we should take it. What I'm saying is, if we want to promote conservatism, we'll need to use every tool at our disposal. Sometimes, we'll have to reject the president's proposals," he said.
He also warned that Mr. Obama would try "bait us" and "portray us as cruel and unyielding."
"But we can't get rattled," he said. "We won't play the villain in his morality plays. We have to stay united. We have to show that — if given the chance — we can govern. We have better ideas."
Mr. Ryan proved to be a key player in convincing rank-and-file lawmakers this week to increase the nation's debt ceiling for four months without dollar-for-dollar spending cuts of equal or greater value.
The Republican assured them that the move is part of a broader strategy aimed at giving the GOP the upper hand with Democrats in fast-approaching fights over spending battles. Mr. Ryan said it would pave the way for Republicans to put the nation on path toward a balanced budget.
"The House won't consider another debt-ceiling increase unless the Senate passes a budget, and we are not going to just keep raising the debt ceiling," Mr. Ryan said. "We are going to make a down payment on debt reduction, and we are going to point the country in the right direction — and we are going to cut spending."
Mr. Ryan said he recognizes that earlier this month "we did not all see eye-to-eye" when he supported the "fiscal cliff" package that locked in the George W. Bush-era tax cuts permanent for 98 percent of Americans, while raising taxes on the nation's top earners. The bill also increased the "death tax," taxes on capital gains and dividends, and pushed off the $110 billion in automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs that lawmakers included in the 2011 deal to raise the nation's debt limit.
The 42-year-old said the bill allowed the nation to sidestep a $4.4 trillion tax hike over the next 10 years and, in making most of the cuts permanent, achieved something "we could not achieve when George Bush was in office."
"In short, there was no way we were going to get a better deal for the American taxpayer. That is not to hide the fact that this bill was far from perfect," he said. "This bill had to pass. Otherwise, every single taxpayer would have paid higher taxes, and our economy would have gone into a nosedive."
The two-day National Review Institute's summit kicked off Saturday morning with an address from Peter Thiel, the co-founder of Paypal.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint, who resigned from his seat to become president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, are among those scheduled to speak Saturday. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Mr. Jindal are scheduled to speak Sunday.
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