Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks Tuesday at the Reagan Presidential Library… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
It is a ritual of the vice presidential audition: A contender for the role of running mate tries to profess just enough interest, but not too much.
On Tuesday evening at the Reagan Presidential Library, it was Paul D. Ryan's turn to play coy when the Wisconsin congressman was asked whether he would say yes to Mitt Romney.
"You know, that's somebody else's decision, months away, and that's a conversation I need to have with my wife before I have it all with you," Ryan told a crowd that filled an auditorium at the hilltop library in Simi Valley.
Lest anyone leap to the conclusion that he's lobbying for the spot, Ryan added: "I like what I'm doing. Don't underestimate how important Congress is."
A moment later, though, Ryan was heaping praise on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. If he'd known Romney a year ago as well as he does now, Ryan said, he would have endorsed him back then — rather than waiting until days before last month's Wisconsin primary.
"He's actually very funny as well," Ryan said, echoing a character reference that Romney often gets from his wife, Ann. "He's got a really quick wit."
Ryan's appearance at the library came as he is trying to raise his national profile, regardless of whether Romney puts him on the ticket. On Thursday, he plans to hold a $5,000-a-plate breakfast in San Francisco to raise money for Prosperity PAC, a committee that Ryan can use to pay for his travels around the country and make donations to fellow Republicans.
Ryan's federal budget plan, which emphasizes tax and spending cuts, has become the foundation of the Republican Party's 2012 election agenda and a major target for Democrats, who say it favors the wealthy. Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee.
In his speech at the library, Ryan repeatedly invoked President Reagan and called for shrinking the federal government and paying down the national debt. Both spending and the deficit increased significantly on Reagan's watch.
Ryan accused Democrats of overspending with borrowed money, the way some European countries have done.
In Europe, debate is raging over whether the Germany-led agenda of austerity — slashing spending and debt — has been pushing the continent's economies back into recession. Ryan, however, distanced himself from the word "austerity" as he laid out his own fiscal vision.
"We must avoid European-style austerity — harsh benefit cuts for current retirees and large tax increases that slow the economy to a crawl," Ryan said.
"But too many in Washington are repeating Europe's mistakes instead of learning from them. If we stay on this path, then bond markets in a state of panic will turn on us."
Ryan got a friendly reception from the audience. Notably absent, however, was Nancy Reagan, 90, who usually attends appearances at the library by prominent speakers. John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said she was staying home on her doctor's orders.
"She's fine," he said, "but still nursing some broken ribs from a fall."