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Who is Paul Ryan? Republicans, Democrats scramble to frame Romney's VP pick

Brad KnickerbockerThe Christian Science Monitor

On the Sunday TV talk shows, topic number one was Paul Ryan.

No surprise there. The GOP’s newly-selected vice presidential nominee is the biggest campaign news since Mitt Romney nailed down the top spot on the ticket.

The two camps – Romney’s and President Obama’s – immediately set to work framing Rep. Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker best know for a budget plan that’s excited conservatives and left many liberals apoplectic.

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod says Ryan is a "right wing ideologue" who wants to convert Medicare into a voucher plan, putting the program for the elderly in "a death spiral."

"It is a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else – the middle class, seniors, students," Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Over on “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee, weighed in similarly.

“As a member of the Budget Committee myself [which Rep. Ryan chairs], I've had a front row seat to witness the architect of the Romney-Ryan budget,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz said. “It suggests that we should end Medicare as we know it, shred the safety net for seniors in health care that we had in place for more than 50 years, turn Medicare into a block grants and send it to the states, which would really jeopardize seniors in nursing homes, potentially take 10 million students off of Pell Grants, cut health care, cut education.”

Also speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. John McCain batted back Democratic charges that Republicans – and specifically, the Ryan budget plan – aim to “to push grandma over the cliff.”

“They have not had a plan yet to save Social Security and Medicare, and they've had nearly four years to do it,” Sen. McCain said. “Paul Ryan has taken the courageous steps to bring this issue to the forefront. And under a Romney-Ryan administration, you will see it addressed. Not like this last administration – which has done nothing. They haven't even passed a budget through the Senate of the United States of America in three years.”

Governor Scott Walker, Ryan’s fellow Wisconsin Republican, sought to assure voters that any changes to Social Security and Medicare will improve those programs’ financial viability without unduly harming recipients – hinting as well that Romney doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in the Ryan plan.

"The truth is seniors and people near retirement aren't going to be touched under [Ryan's] plan. And the bigger truth is in the end, it's going to be governor and then President Romney's plan that will ultimately prevail,” Gov. Walker said on NBC’s Meet the Press. "He's going to protect Medicare for seniors. He's going to protect Medicare and other programs for future generations.”

Senior Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie emphasized the same point on CNN's "State of the Union."

"It is the Romney-Ryan ticket, and as president, Romney will be putting forth his own budget," Mr. Gillespie said.

Like all those vetted as VP possibles by the Romney campaign, Ryan had to submit his tax returns for at least several years – very likely more than the two years Romney himself has made public. This gave Democrats another chance to needle Romney – whose net worth is about $250 million, much of it in foreign investment accounts, and who has been dogged by charges that any taxes he paid were at a rate much lower than the average American.

"Why does an American businessman need a Swiss bank account, or investments in known tax havens, if not to be hiding something?" Wasserman Schultz said on Fox News. "Mitt Romney needs to show American voters at least the same number of tax returns that he asked Paul Ryan to show him when he was vetting him for vice president."

Sunday, Romney and Ryan were appearing at a series of rallies in North Carolina – a competitive state in the race – as part of a multistate bus tour before ending the day in Waukesha, Wis., in a homecoming-themed event for Ryan. Romney and Ryan are scheduled to give their first joint interview Sunday evening on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Romney then planned to head to Florida and Ohio as the week begins, while Ryan was scheduled to travel to Iowa on Monday as the ticket looked to cover as much ground as possible.

Another theory about the split in travel plans is that Ryan may not be that helpful in Florida – because of the controversy over Medicare in a state with many retirees, and because Ryan has opposed the trade embargo on Cuba, which rankles many Cuban-Americans there.

Obama, for his part, was starting a three-day bus tour of Iowa on Monday, signifying the importance of the toss-up Midwestern state. And he was dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to North Carolina on Monday followed by a two-day swing through Virginia starting Tuesday.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.