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Mitt Romney’s decision to add Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan to the Republican ticket portends a fierce debate in the fall campaign over the size and role of government in America. The 42-year-old chairman of the House Budget Committee is the Republican Party’s leading voice on fiscal matters, calling for changes in Medicare and major cuts in taxes and federal spending at a time when voters are clamoring for a more robust economic recovery.
As such, Ryan embodies the staunch opposition of Republicans in Congress to President Obama’s calls for stimulating the economy with short-term spending to build roads and bridges and offer states fiscal relief to avert further teacher and public-safety worker layoffs. Romney formally announced his choice Saturday morning in Norfolk, Va., on board the battleship Wisconsin.
Photos: Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan
Ryan's name has long been on the list of Romney’s potential running mates. But the choice was nonetheless a surprising one for Romney, who is not known for taking big political gambles. Ryan's call for a major revamping of the popular Medicare health coverage program for the elderly poses especially high risks for Romney.
Romney’s choice was influenced, no doubt, by polls showing Obama holding an edge in the November election. Romney passed over several safer picks, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
On the upside for Romney, Ryan’s candidacy has potential to encourage a strong turnout of conservatives, which could be crucial in a closely divided election. Many applaud Ryan for leading the party’s drive to regain its image for fiscal restraint, which was damaged by the swelling of the deficit under the last Republican president,George W. Bush. With rare exceptions, Ryan has also sided with the party’s conservative wing on abortion, immigration and most other issues.
On the electoral map, Ryan appears to offer Romney little help. Wisconsin has been a major battleground in the last several presidential races, but it is not one of the states that Romney must win in order to unseat Obama. The last Republican who carried Wisconsin in a presidential race was President Reagan in 1984.
For Obama, the major target will be Ryan’s fiscal plan, which passed the Republican-controlled House in April--a sort of do-over of one the GOP approved last year. It has already made Ryan a punching bag for Democrats in campaigns all over the country. The plan would transform Medicare by giving the next generation of seniors the option of a voucher-like system, offering subsidies for the purchase of private insurance to those who turn 65 starting in 10 years.
Ryan’s plan, which Romney has endorsed, would also cut $700 billion from Medicaid healthcare for the poor while lowering tax rates – including for the wealthy – as part of a tax system overhaul.
Democrats say his plan would reward the rich by making drastic cuts in everything from the national park system to food and drug safety programs.
Obama has branded Ryan's budget “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” In April, he called it “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who’s willing to work for it.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich characterized an earlier version of Ryan's plan as “right-wing social engineering,” a remark that irked fellow Republicans who have essentially adopted it as their 2012 campaign platform.
A Catholic raised in Janesville, Wis., Ryan, who likes to hunt and fish, is a former fitness trainer known on Capitol Hill for his vigorous exercise regimen. He and his wife, Janna, have three young children. Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in economics and political science from Miami University in Ohio.
Ryan is one of the Republican "Young Guns," a trio a up-and-coming House GOP leaders who co-wrote a book of the same name.
His rise in politics has been swift. He worked for several former Republican members of Congress: Sen. Bob Kasten of Wisconsin, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
In 1998, Ryan returned to his hometown in southern Wisconsin to run -- at age 28 -- for the House seat that he has held ever since. Ryan has been savvy about maneuvering upward in the Republican hierarchy in Congress. His expertise on fiscal matters led Bush to offer him the job of federal budget director, a post that Ryan turned down.
[Updated at 11:31 a.m., Aug. 11: This post was updated to reflect that Romney made his expected announcement that Ryan would be his vice presidential running mate.]