Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.), gives a thumbs-up at a rally at the NASCAR Technical… (Jason E. Miczek / Associated…)
Democrats sought to highlight what they see as the radical and unpopular elements of newly minted GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's budget plans Sunday, while Republicans praised Ryan as a visionary who will tell the hard truths Americans crave to hear.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's selection of Ryan "clarifies the choice for the American people ... in a way that is going to be helpful," David Axelrod, President Obama's campaign strategist, said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
He added on ABC's "This Week": "It's a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else -- the middle class, seniors, students -- because of Ryan's record. He is a right-wing ideologue. ... He's the guy who's the architect of a plan to end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher program and shift thousands of dollars of costs onto senior citizens."
PHOTOS: Paul Ryan's past
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, backs a budget plan that would cut taxes, significantly curb federal spending and change Medicare by introducing a voluntary voucher program that would give future seniors a fixed amount of money to buy private health insurance. Romney has praised Ryan's plan in general without backing each specific proposal within it.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a recall election last fall after enacting significant state budget cuts and doing battle with public-employee unions, called the Ryan pick "a game changer" and noted that Ryan has regularly won more than 60% of the vote in his district -- a seat once held by liberal Democrat Les Aspin -- despite advocating a major fiscal restructuring.
“Why?” Walker asked on "Meet the Press." "Because people want the truth. ... I think voters want leadership."
Romney backers said his choice of Ryan suggested his willingness to be bold and compete in a battle of ideologies.
"The message is this is a big election. It's about big issues. It's about big ideas," said Romney advisor Ed Gillespie on CNN's "State of the Union." "We're not going to be distracted by the little things."
Democrats celebrated because they think Ryan's ideas are bad and they know that polls show some of them are unpopular.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey in June 2011 found that 58% of respondents said they opposed the idea of turning Medicare into a voucher program, with 35% supporting. Three-quarters of elderly respondents said they disapproved, as did 54% of those who identified themselves as conservatives.
"Paul Ryan has embraced an extremist proposal that ... cuts so much it would risk slowing and even stalling our recovery," Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, said on "Fox News Sunday."
Speaking on "Meet the Press," Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, the Republican National Committee chairman, countered that "we are trying to figure out how to save Medicare and Social Security and that on entitlements, the president does a lot of talking ... but he does nothing.”
PHOTOS: Mitt Romney names Paul Ryan to ticket
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who was passed over by Romney in favor of Ryan, said on ABC that "Congressman Ryan and Gov. Romney have put together a plan that actually tackles the problem in specific, preserves Medicare ... for people who are already on the program, but begins to change it in needed and realistic ways for the next generation. Unlike the president, they're actually willing to lead, actually willing to put meat on the bones and put specific proposals on the table."
Responded Axelrod, "There's no doubt that we've got to do more, but the question is, are you going to do it in a way that preserves the program and the access to care that seniors need, or are you going to turn it into a voucher program with ever-decreasing value of the vouchers relative to healthcare costs, and throw seniors onto the tender mercies of the private insurance market. The question is, do you really believe in Medicare?"