Obama Disagrees With Romney-Ryan Economic Vision

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President Obama says he wants this campaign to be about ideas and differing outlooks for the future. The selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate offers the chance for just such a fight. Ryan is the author of a conservative and controversial budget.

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When President Obama begins a bus tour through Iowa today, he'll be campaigning not only against the policies of Mitt Romney, but also of Paul Ryan, Romney's new running mate. Paul Ryan will also be in Iowa today, though chances are he won't come face to face with the president.

But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, their economic platforms will be going head to head.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama has effectively been campaigning against Paul Ryan and the other Republicans in Congress for the last two years. That will only ratchet up now that the Wisconsin lawmaker is officially on the GOP ticket.

At a campaign fundraiser in Chicago yesterday, Mr. Obama congratulated Ryan and welcomed him to White House race.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Congressman Ryan is a decent man. He is a family man. He is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney's vision. But it's a vision that I fundamentally disagree with.

HORSLEY: That disagreement goes back a long way, though it wasn't always so heated. At a GOP House retreat in 2010, Mr. Obama said Ryan's proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program was an idea that warranted serious discussion.

Then, as now, he warned the plan might just shift health care costs onto the backs of seniors. But he also lamented a slash-and-burn political culture in which each party tries to win votes by scaring seniors, for example, about the other side's proposals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: You don't get a lot of credit if I say, you know, I think Paul Ryan's a pretty sincere guy, and has a beautiful family. Nobody's going to run that in the newspapers.

HORSLEY: Fifteen months later, in a speech at George Washington University, Mr. Obama took the gloves off. By that time, Republicans had taken control of the House and crafted a budget that included Ryan's Medicare plan, as well as deep cuts in taxes and federal spending. Supporters called the Ryan budget serious and courageous. But with Ryan sitting in the audience, the president insisted it was neither.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars 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.

HORSLEY: Yesterday, a spokesman tried to distance Romney from the Ryan budget, stressing that economic policy will be set by the man at the top of the ticket, not his running mate. Mr. Obama drew no such distinction in attacking what he called the Republicans' top-down economics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: My opponent and Congressman Ryan and their allies in Congress, they all believe that if we just get rid of more regulations on big corporations and we give more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, it will lead to jobs and prosperity for everybody else. That's what they're proposing.

HORSLEY: Democrats say by choosing one of the ideological leaders among House Republicans as his running mate, Romney has sharpened the battle lines in the November election.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Clearly, there's a lot of energy and excitement among the Tea Party base. But this is essentially telling centrist and independent voters to go take a hike.

HORSLEY: That's Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen on CNN. As the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Van Hollen had an up-close look at Ryan's spending plan, which would not only change Medicare and Medicaid, but would also cut funding for education, research and transportation.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

HOLLEN: What Mitt Romney has done is pick somebody who has an economic plan and a budget plan that is great for people just like Mitt Romney. It's great if you're very wealthy in this country, because it provides you additional tax breaks. But it does so at the expense of everyone and everything else.

HORSLEY: Even with those spending cuts, Ryan's budget would not be balanced for decades, because it doesn't include any new tax revenue. Ryan also voted against the tax increases proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission, which he was a member of.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," the Obama campaign's political advisor, David Axelrod, challenged Ryan's reputation as a deficit hawk.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

DAVID AXELROD: This was a guy who rubber-stamped every aspect of the Bush economic policy, including not paying for two wars, a Social Security - a Medicare prescription plan, two big tax cuts. He really isn't in a strong position to talk about this problem.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama seems to have set aside any reservations about slash-and-burn politics. Beneath the smoke and scorched earth, though, there's now a serious debate underway about the proper size and scope of the federal government.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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