RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Obama's budget is being worked on in the House and Senate, where Democrats have cut billions from the proposal. But there's also an alternative plan from the Republican minority, and one of the key authors is Wisconsin's Paul Ryan. As the top Republican member of the House Budget Committee, he will deliver that alternative plan to the House floor next week. We spoke with Congressman Ryan yesterday as House Republicans released an 18-page pamphlet called "The Republican Road to Recovery." It outlines their disagreements with the president's budget goals.
Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): We don't think it's right to impose a $1.9 trillion tax increase on our economy during a recession, so we're not going to raise taxes. Number two: We don't think it's right to have a huge slew of borrowing. They're doubling our national debt in five and half years, tripling it in just over 10 years. So we think we need to focus on controlling spending and reforming government. We don't think the answer is to borrow and spend our way to prosperity, so we're not going to propose all this new spending they're proposing, and that's going to help us save money and reduce our borrowing costs.
MONTAGNE: Now, you talk about not being able to spend our way out of recession. In fact, there are those who argue that that's exactly what you do.
Rep. RYAN: Right. We just disagree with that. If you believe that spending is the key to creating jobs and prosperity, then it ought to happen right now in the recession. More than half of all of this $1.2 trillion in new spending they're proposing doesn't even occur until 2011 and beyond. Worse yet, only one percent of the stimulus legislation is aimed at actually encouraging employers to keep or create jobs. And we think that's just misplaced priorities, and that's why we're going in a different direction.
MONTAGNE: Earlier this week you denounced this budget as a - and I am quoting you - "a third and great final wave of government expansion after the Great Society and the New Deal."
Given the comparisons being made now to the Great Depression, might not a lot of Americans think comparing this agenda to the New Deal is a good thing?
Rep. RYAN: There's probably truth to that, because that's what President Obama is saying about his budget. That's what the administration is saying, is that this is the most sweeping and transformative budget since the New Deal. They probably believe that that's what people want. I just disagree. We didn't get out of the Depression until World War II came along.
I think what's more happening here is people who believe that we just need to have a transformative government see this as an opportunity. I think what's really occurring is rather than solving the economic crisis, I think this budget exploits the economic crisis and grows the size and the involvement of our government in levels that are just really historic.
MONTAGNE: We're speaking to Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. How much of a difference can you make being in the minority?
Rep. RYAN: Here's the difference we think we can make. Number one: We can go to the American people with the truth and tell them what's happening. And number two: And our obligation, if we're going to criticize, is to give the American people a choice. And I think we need to reach our hand out to Democrats, especially the Blue Dog Democrats who consider themselves conservative Democrats, and say don't sign up to this borrowing spree. Defeat this budget, work with us, and let's get something better.
MONTAGNE: Now the one thing about this budget, it scraps the president's proposal of $250 billion. He was wanting to set that amount aside for any additional bailouts of financial institutions.
Rep. RYAN: It does.
MONTAGNE: It's out now. But what if the Treasury secretary comes back, requests more money from Congress, will you oppose it no matter what?
Rep. RYAN: Well, what we think they're up to is they took it out of the proposal, so they didn't reflect the cost. But they intend on bringing it to the floor under emergency spending rules, like the original proposal, where it wouldn't be considered inside the budget, and therefore it wouldn't have to be paid for.
MONTAGNE: And should that…
Rep. RYAN: I don't think that's right. We tried to pass an amendment on Wednesday saying you can't bring this in an emergency. The president is already telling us he's going to come to Congress with this request, therefore it must be inside the budget. We tried to do that, and they prevented that from happening.
MONTAGNE: Were though there a need to arise - at least in the administration's view - for additional bailout money in the coming months for financial institutions…
Rep. RYAN: We've got to see what the plan is. You know, we have a new proposal by the Treasury secretary. I have a lot of reservations about that proposal. I'm pleased in one sense that they're at least attacking the problem, which are these toxic assets. I'm unsure about whether this is the proper method to do it. But in that sense, we will be offering an alternative if we don't think this is the right way to go.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Rep. RYAN: You bet.
MONTAGNE: Congressman Paul Ryan is the top Republican on the House Budget Committee.
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