MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was in Milwaukee Monday, April 9th discussing his controversial budget plan to slash federal spending that will be a centerpiece of the debate for the White House in 2012.
Republicans say the Ryan budget plan is "the path to prosperity." Democrats say it's "the road to ruin." No matter the side of the aisle, the federal budget is sure to be a central issue in the 2012 campaign for president.
Ryan spoke Monday morning to a meeting of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce - the state's largest business association. He warned business owners of the dangers of a ballooning debt and deficit. "We have the most predictable economic crisis we've ever had in this country - a debt crisis," Ryan said.
Ryan said there is a way to avoid an economic catastrophe, and it's the tough medicine in the budget he authored and the U.S. House passed March 29th. "What we need are people to tell the country just how empty some of these promises are, and what we need to do to fix it," Ryan said.
Ryan's budget plan would change Medicare to a subsidized system of private insurance plans. It would cut domestic spending, overhaul the tax code and repeal the Health Care Reform Act.
Ryan's critics say tax cuts reward the rich and punish the poor. "Paul Ryan doesn't have any credibility when it comes to budget issues. Balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it," Democrat Rob Zerban said.
Zerban is running against Ryan in the First Congressional District. "We need a congressman who is going to fight for increased investment in our infrastructure, and our education system, as opposed to cutting it," Zerban said.
Ryan said welfare cuts will lead people back to work. "We want an upwardly mobile society. Our spending is on an unsustainable trajectory. Our deficit and debt could trigger a terrible recession and a debt crisis. That hurts the people who need government the most, the first and the worst," Ryan said.
Zerban says Ryan's record shows he's not serious about cutting spending. "If you look back over his 14 years in Congress, supporting every one of the Bush tax cuts, two unfunded wars, the largest expansion of Medicare part D, which was unfunded, you have to go back and look at his record of what he's done, and ask where does he have the credibility to pretend that he's a deficit hawk?" Zerban said.
Ryan also mentioned Monday the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall race, calling it the second most important election in the country, next to the presidential race. "Most folks in D.C. look at (the recall) election as a national trend-setting election," Ryan said.
Zerban agreed that the recall is important, to the point that it's sapping resources from other races. "In Wisconsin, you talk to donors and they say, 'look, I'm really supporting the recall effort right now.' Once the recall is done there will be more of a focus on our elections this November," Zerban said.
Experts say outside groups, including political action committees and unions could spend $100 million in Wisconsin, trying to win the Walker recall race. "It's definitely a referendum on Walker's misplaced agenda and misplaced priorities," Zerban said.
Ryan said the outcome of that referendum has the potential to cast a long shadow over American politics for years to come. "If Scott Walker or these state senators get recalled in June, what governor or state Legislature in the future is going to take on these big structural challenges? What politician is going to take on these entrenched special interest groups and deal with these problems in the states if this is what happens to you? That's why the stakes are so high," Ryan said.
Ryan said he will play an active role in the recall races. He said he'll campaign with Walker and the senators under recall.
Zerban said Ryan should focus on the First Congressional District, not statewide and national politics.