After Senate's Medicare Vote, Ryan Remains Unbowed

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan was unbowed Thursday after the expected, but nonetheless stinging, rejection of his budget and Medicare proposal by the Senate. Ryan told NPR reporters he would do it all over again. He continued to call for Congress to do something urgent about the public debt — and continued to reject any notion of tax increases to help balance the ledger.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's been a tough week for Congressman Paul Ryan. He wrote the House Republicans' budget, including the plan that would eventually privatize Medicare. Ryan's plan played a big part in a special election in upstate New York this week, an election that flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat. Then yesterday, a majority of the Senate, including five Republicans, voted to kill the Ryan budget.

In the aftermath of all this, we here at NPR were glad to have him visit the building this morning to take a few questions. And NPR's Andrea Seabrook was there.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Paul Ryan's budget is bold. Introducing him, NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving calls it the centerpiece of the conversation going on in Washington.

RON ELVING: The budget conversation and the larger definition of the federal government and its role of government in this society as a whole, has not just been a budget, really, but a manifesto; and not just a document, but a political event.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Chairman, House Budget Committee): That was a good way of describing it. We wrote the budget this year intending it to be what you just described it.

SEABROOK: Ryan looks young and sharp.

Rep. RYAN: I wrote it in a user-friendly way to try and include the country into a conversation about it's going to take to get our budget on a path of balance and our economy on a path to prosperity.

SEABROOK: He sits comfortably in his chair, leaning slightly into the mic.

Rep. RYAN: The key that all the economists and all the bond people tell us is: confidence and trajectory.

SEABROOK: Ryan swoops his hand up into the air.

Rep. RYAN: Is your debt going up, off the rails like it's currently projected to do?

SEABROOK: The hand sweeps back downward.

Rep. RYAN: Or are you getting it under control and stabilized? We can do this and my point is, if we wait, if we allow politics to paralyze us, which is kind of what's going on right now, then we'll have a debt crisis.

SEABROOK: Ryan's budget is famous for eventually privatizing Medicare, but it also attacks federal spending. It would cut trillions of dollars out of federal programs, from education to agriculture, and most everything in between. It also keeps taxes low, making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent - that's where political paralysis comes in.

Democrats, the president, and the recent bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit commission all say lawmakers must consider some kinds of tax increases, as well.

So, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host Robert Siegel asked...

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

As you look forward, if you're going to reach an agreement with the Democrats that raises debt ceilings, avoids calamity, is there ultimately some room that you can imagine, for - from your standpoint - at least some nominal tax increase that gives the possibility for both sides to walk into a room and come out of a room and say, we got some of what we wanted here? Or is that absolutely...

Rep. RYAN: I don't - yeah, I don't see it. And let me explain why, and this isn't a political thing. It's an economic belief. It's an economic doctrine thing.

SEABROOK: Ryan believes raising taxes will stifle growth. Republicans do not want that option even considered.

Congressional correspondent Audie Cornish pushed back.

AUDIE CORNISH: Do you believe that there is a compromise? Or are you guys basically holding the ball until the buzzer of 2012?

Rep. RYAN: Compromise? We put dozens of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations in our budget.

CORNISH: The parts you like.

Rep. RYAN: Yeah, the parts I like. Yeah, there are the parts...

CORNISH: That's not compromise. What about the parts you don't like?

Rep. RYAN: Yeah, that's a good touche. We put out a plan, a very specific plan. If you want compromise, the people on the other side of the aisle need to put up a plan, as well. We're just negotiating with ourselves right now.

SEABROOK: Regardless, Ryan's budget is going nowhere right now after the Senate voted it down yesterday. But he sees the current debate over raising the U.S. debt limit as a prime opportunity, a chance to enact some of his economic beliefs.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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