Presumptive Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan previewed his convention speech Monday during a send-off rally at his hometown high school in Janesville, Wis., saying he and Mitt Romney “are going to honor the fact that this country was created on an idea by our founders: Our rights come from nature and God, and not from government.”
Ryan drew a big-picture contrast between the Republican ticket’s vision of a more prosperous country and President Obama’s America, which he described as “a nation in debt, a nation in doubt, a nation in decline.”
Ryan, a Wisconsin representative and chairman of the House Budget Committee, will accept the GOP’s vice presidential nomination on Wednesday in Tampa, a day before Mitt Romney becomes the party’s presidential nominee.
Before leaving for Florida, Ryan spoke in the gymnasium at Joseph A. Craig High School, from which he graduated in 1988. The event had the feel of an athletic team’s pep rally: Attendees wore cheeseheads and painted shirts with the letters R-Y-A-N and broke into chants of “USA! USA!”
“Sounds like we just went to state, doesn’t it?” Ryan remarked.
Romney picked the 42-year-old Ryan as his running mate earlier this month, a move consistent with his campaign’s focus on economic and fiscal issues. Ryan has made an annual habit of proposing strict budget plans aimed at eliminating the federal deficit over time.
Supporters praise Ryan for boldly offering solutions to the nation’s budget woes after three straight years of $1 trillion deficits and a fourth predicted by the Congressional Budget Office.
“We are not going to duck the tough issues and kick the can down the road,” Ryan said at the rally. “We are going to lead.”
Detractors decry Ryan’s proposed cuts to social service programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. President Obama has called Ryan’s budget plan “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”
The best-known element of Ryan’s plan is a Medicare overhaul that would introduce a voucher program in 2023. Beginning that year, new Medicare enrollees would choose between traditional, fee-for-service Medicare and premium support payments, which they would use to purchase private health insurance.
Competition among private insurers would keep costs down, Ryan argues. In year one, the value of the vouchers would be set according to the second-least expensive private plan, ensuring adequate funds for seniors to cover their insurance premiums.
But because of an annual cap on the amount of money that could be added to the vouchers, seniors’ premium support payments would not be guaranteed to keep up with insurance costs in subsequent years, exposing some to greater out-of-pocket expenses.
And while a fee-for-service Medicare option would remain, seniors would have to pay extra to enroll, if the cost of traditional Medicare exceeded the value of the vouchers.
Ryan did not mention Medicare at the rally in Janesville and noted few other specifics of the Romney-Ryan platform.
His address was thematic. Ryan appealed to voters’ sense of individual liberty, saying he and Romney believe in people’s ability to act responsibly and improve their lives without government interference. He praised friends who were laid off by General Motors but trained for new careers and are back on their feet.
Ryan was especially complimentary of small business owners.
“They don’t need their president telling them that the government gets the credit,” Ryan said. “They need to know that we know that they built their businesses, and they get the credit. That’s how jobs are created.”
Responding to Ryan’s remarks, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kramer said “he and Mitt Romney don’t seem to understand ... that the country’s strongest when the middle class is strong and prosperous.”
Kramer pointed to the GOP ticket’s plan to restrain government spending while also lowering income tax rates for everyone, including wealthy Americans.
“That’s the same top-down economic scheme that crashed our economy and devastated the middle class in the first place, and middle class families just can’t afford to go back,” Kramer said.
Ryan suggested it is the president who is out of touch with many middle-class voters, referencing disparaging remarks Obama made while campaigning in 2008 about people who “cling to guns or religion.”
“From a guy who goes to St. John Vianney over there, whose tree stand is over about six miles that direction and that direction, this Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged and proud of that,” Ryan said to cheers. “That’s freedom.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.