Romney's VP Pick Shakes Up Presidential Race

The selection of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan to be the GOP vice president candidate shook up the presidential race over the weekend. Mara Liasson joins Audie Cornish to talk about the campaign.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, we turn to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson for some analysis of this new chapter in the presidential race. And Mara, given what we just heard from Florida, should I bother asking you about anything but entitlement reform? Is this what we're going to be hearing about for the next three months?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, I think we'll hear a lot about it. The president was in Iowa today where Paul Ryan is going to be pretty soon. I mean, where Paul Ryan was also today, and he said that the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it. Now, this is the debate the president and his campaign have wanted. They talk sometimes as if they were running against someone named Mr. House Republican and now they've gotten their opponent.

Today, the president said to voters in Iowa, tell Paul Ryan not to stand in the way of the Farm Bill, you know, the Congress is holding that up. He did say Ryan was a nice guy with a great family. He really believes in his vision, but the president disagrees with that vision. And he attacked it as top-down economics. So if the spotlight is shifting away from the economy to the deficit and entitlement reform, that's probably a good thing for the president.

The question is, will this debate - which is about a really big problem, the deficit and entitlements - be the same old debate with Democrats accusing Republicans of trying to push grandma off a cliff, or will we see the president forced to come up with a progressive vision of deficit and entitlement reform, something other than just raising taxes on the wealthy?

CORNISH: Will we see Romney sort of pick and choose aspects of Paul Ryan's policy proposals, and is that really feasible?

LIASSON: I don't think it's feasible. On "60 Minutes" last night, Romney said, we're running on my budget plan. Of course, he hasn't put out a very detailed one, but Paul Ryan has. And I don't know what the point of picking Paul Ryan is if you're going to run away from his budget. And I don't think Romney will be able to distance himself from it because the Democrats won't let him.

Bill Burton, who runs the Democratic superPAC Priorities USA, put out a memo today saying that when they polled on the Ryan plan, it polled terribly. The biggest problem they had was convincing people that anyone would actually do such a thing, would actually propose such a radical transformation of the safety net, voucherizing Medicare and shrinking job training programs. Nobody believed that it could be true.

Now, they say they have their proof. The author of the plan is on the ticket. And by the way, this debate isn't going to just be about Medicare or entitlements. It's going to be about the size and proper role of government, because the Ryan budget plan, much more than it shrinks the deficit, shrinks the government.

CORNISH: And just remind us, I mean, what has Mitt Romney said about the Ryan budget?

LIASSON: He said he would sign it if it came to his desk. He also suggested during the primary that it might not be progressive enough because he said during one debate - he told Newt Gingrich that the House Republican budget, the Ryan budget, would lower his tax rate, Romney's tax rate, to less than 1 percent.

CORNISH: Now, we've talked so much about Ryan and Romney and Obama, but we're forgetting about Vice President Joe Biden. How do these guys match up, not only in a vice presidential debate, but throughout the race?

LIASSON: Well, they're both Catholic. They're both expected to appeal to white working-class Catholic voters. Both of them are lifelong creatures of Washington, which is interesting. Neither of them have private sector experience. But they're very different. Big contrast on foreign policy, not a big issue for voters this year, but an important threshold for somebody who might be president on a moment's notice. And I think Democrats might raise the ready on day one question about Paul Ryan, since he has no foreign policy experience and Biden does, having served on foreign relations committee and now as vice president.

But also there are a lot of differences. You know, Ryan is an intellectual, a real policy wonk, a great explainer. Biden is known as a gaffe machine. So I think in terms of the debate matchup, right now, Biden starts out as the underdog, which is a great advantage for him.

CORNISH: NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Audie.

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