Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) attends President Obama's inauguration… (Jewel Samad / Getty Images )
Now that two months have passed since the 2012 election, what does Rep. Paul Ryan think the voters' message was?
It wasn't a rejection of the Romney-Ryan platform or of the "Ryan Budget" that would have turned Medicare into a voucher plan, Ryan told reporters on Wednesday.
"I don't see this [election result] as a rejection of our principles," Ryan said at a Wall Street Journal breakfast.
Instead, the message Ryan heard was that Republicans need to make it clear that they're not the party of the rich -- that they’re as intent on ending poverty and increasing opportunity as Democrats.
Meanwhile, though, Ryan has a daunting new assignment that may make that message even more difficult to sell. He's been charged by House Speaker John A. Boehner with drawing up a new budget that will erase the federal deficit within 10 years (the first Ryan budget, written in 2011, needed 30 years) solely through spending cuts -- no new tax revenues allowed.
That means Ryan's next budget will require even more dramatic cuts in "entitlements" -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- than the last one.
"We’re going to have to have a big debate in this country about how to cut spending in an intelligent way," he said.
The 10-year balanced budget was something tea party conservatives demanded as the price of their agreement to Boehner's plan to suspend the federal debt ceiling for four months.
But it has Democrats licking their chops, because it will make Ryan's Republicans look like the party of big Medicare cuts -- again.
If Ryan's new budget gets specific on Medicare cuts, some Democrats will doubtless use it as an excuse for demagoguery -- even though President Obama has acknowledged that bringing the deficit under control requires trimming projected Medicare spending.
With luck, though, centrist Democrats will see a new Ryan budget as giving them running room to propose less draconian (and more realistic) Medicare reforms.
In any case, Ryan's response is: Bring it on.
"Our job, as we see it, is to get spending under control, to get some entitlement reforms, to make sure we don't have a debt crisis," he said.
Besides, he added, with Congress' approval rating around 15%, we don't have much to lose, do we?"
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