OTR Interviews

Rep. Ryan to Obama the Divider-in-Chief: Class Warfare Rhetoric Makes Nation Weaker

Congressman explains speech skewering the president for divisive politics


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 26, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, Representative Paul Ryan comes out swinging at President Obama! He accuses the president of preying on the emotions of fear, envy and resentment. In a blistering speech today, Congressman Ryan said the president is using divisive rhetoric to sell his jobs plan. Congressman Ryan joins us.

Good evening, sir.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS, BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Hey, good to be back with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you came out swinging at the president. Why?

RYAN: You know, it's really disappointing, actually. I don't enjoy doing this because he gave us a message of hope three years ago, of uniting and not dividing. And what we're getting are class warfare. We're getting very polarizing rhetoric that puts class against class, pits people against one another.

And I would simply say sowing social unrest and class resentment does not make America stronger, it makes America weaker.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why is he doing that? He's either doing it for political reasons or because he's given up working with Congress or he's a bad person?

RYAN: Oh, I wouldn't say he's a bad person.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, OK, then...


VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, if you're -- if you're -- if you're creating class warfare and you're trying to cause trouble, that's not a person who's -- you know, I mean, those are harsh words.

RYAN: It strikes me as an ideological thing. It also is a political decision I think he's made. He decided not to work with Congress by sending us a jobs bill that had a chance of passing, by sending us ideas that he knows we agree with him on. He sent us another round of stimulus.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, why would he do that?

RYAN: Then he spent months going around the country impugning people's motives, setting up strawman arguments, basically saying Republicans are for dirty air and dirty water and against people with health insurance, basically, picking a partisan conflict versus going for compromise.

But more to the point, Greta, I think it's the rhetoric of class division that is especially destabilizing. This is not the American idea. We believe in a system of upward mobility. We believe in a system to get the hurdles out of people's way so they can rise in society. We don't believe in talking to people like they're stuck in some class and the government is here to help them cope with their station in life.

And I think that's the kind of rhetoric that he's using which, A, gives you bad policies, B, it sows social unrest, and C, it doesn't work. Why don't we just stop subsidizing wealthy people? Why don't we stop the corporate welfare, the crony capitalism? Why don't we stop subsidizing wealthy people as much on programs that they receive instead of raising taxes on job creators?

Using this kind of rhetoric to sell massive tax increases is not going to work to create jobs. It's just going to put people against each other.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, are you for dirtier water or dirtier air?

RYAN: No, I'm not, actually.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So is that a lie?

RYAN: Well, it's not accurate. I think what it is...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, but -- (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: It's a strawman argument. It's basically trying to affix to your opponent positions they don't have, to then knock them down and win the debate by default. This is why I call it an intellectually lazy argument because it's not a sincere debate on the facts. It's not a sincere debate on the people who disagree with you on their actual positions.

And so to me, this is conflict. This is starting the campaign in 2011, when the election's not until 2012. And the difference is nothing gets done. So what we're saying is, Let's get some compromise on things we agree on and stop this divisive rhetoric that pits people against each other in this country.

VAN SUSTEREN: If, indeed, that's true, if he's out there peddling this divide, I don't know how, you know, in time of people who have great un -- you know, uncertainty, people who don't have jobs, people -- people's houses are underwater, they're losing their homes -- I mean, I don't know how you can say anything -- I mean, I don't know how you can say anything other than it is bad.

RYAN: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean -- I mean, you sort of soft-pedal...

RYAN: That's right. It is bad.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... your comments about -- you sort of soft-pedal (INAUDIBLE) say it's an ideology. I think when you sort of -- when -- when you -- whether it's a Republican or Democrat, when you make -- when you go out there and make political statements or do whatever it is, assuming it's true -- and I'm sure the Republicans are doing the same thing on the other side -- is that, you know, that is not -- that -- you're not -- that is not for the good of the American people.


VAN SUSTEREN: And anybody who's doing that is -- you know, is -- is - - it's disgraceful!

RYAN: That's my point. I think it's not good for the country. And I think it does come from a difference in philosophy, which is -- the American idea is to promote equality of opportunity so people can make the most of their lives.

VAN SUSTEREN: But if you're -- but if you're saying you're for dirty water and dirty air, that's not a different ideology, if you tell me -- if you tell me that's, quote, not accurate.

RYAN: The point I'm saying is focusing on class warfare -- that I think flows from a philosophy that government ought to equalize the results of people lives instead of equalizing outcomes. Equal opportunity versus equal outcomes, very different political philosophy. And I think the policies that he's been pushing are more in this political philosophy area. And the result of it is more wealth redistribution, higher punitive taxes on job creators, less prosperity.

And so instead of focusing on the kinds of ideas that actually create jobs and economic growth, instead of working with us on these ideas, we're preying on people's (INAUDIBLE) anxieties.

Let me say it this way. Eighty percent of all businesses in America, they file their taxes as individuals, as people, as subchapter S corporations. He wants to bring their top tax rate to 50 percent! You and I come from Wisconsin. Over the shore of Lake Superior, the Canadians next year, they're taxing their businesses at 15 percent. And President Obama is saying the top tax rate that most of our jobs come from, those successful small businesses in America, should go to 50 percent. And he's using this class warfare rhetoric, envy, resentment, fear to sell this really job-killing agenda. And that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, it...

RYAN: ... to me is very, very destructive.

VAN SUSTEREN: To the extent it's ideology, Republicans in general say, Don't raise taxes, and Democrats in general say, We got to raise taxes. So that's an -- that's a -- that's ideology, right?

RYAN: Yes, it's a different economic doctrine, I guess.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, whatever it is, but very different. And there's not going to be much agreement on that right now, do you agree? I mean, it's very hard to find...

RYAN: Well, yes, apparently not.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Then you've got -- this is what he -- this is what I think that he would also say, if he were here, but he won't come "On the Record," I might add, is he would say that -- you know, How do you expect me at this point, when you have -- he -- and he says that Senator McConnell says that their mission in the Senate is to get rid of him, to make him a one-term president.

So he probably goes around the country saying, I've given up on Congress because the Republicans in the House aren't going to go with me, and especially those 91 freshman. We so disagree on ideology on how to get money into the economy to rev up, and you've got those Senate leaders saying his goal is to get rid of him.

RYAN: So here's what I suggested today. Take a look at the bills we've passed. We passed 15 bills to create jobs over the summer. Go back and look at our budget. Our budget says, Get rid of corporate loopholes, lower tax rates on everybody for job creation. He says he agrees with that on businesses, so let's do that together. The other thing...

VAN SUSTEREN: So what's the impediment? What's the impediment on that?

RYAN: I don't know! That's the frustration. The other thing we say is, Let's stop subsidizing the wealthy. Let's stop subsidizing corporations. Stop the crony capitalism, the corporate welfare, income adjust our entitlement programs so we don't subsidize Warren Buffet's health and retirement benefits as much as his secretary's.

These are the things we are saying we think we could get agreement on. Let's go do these things...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, but I don't -- I don't get that!

RYAN: ... and instead, I just don't think we're getting that kind of cooperation.

VAN SUSTEREN: You're 16 blocks apart. You know, I don't get that. I mean, I understand where the divide is on the ideology. But where you tell me and Democrats tell me, This is where we agree, and I go, Great, let's go with it, and...

RYAN: We passed these bills. They're sitting in the Senate right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, then that...

RYAN: All they have to do is pick them up on the Senate and pass them.

VAN SUSTEREN: So that's -- that's against Senator Harry Reid. He runs that.

RYAN: That's his party.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Does he -- does it -- that's -- that President Obama won't call Senator Harry Reid and say...

RYAN: I don't know the answer to that question.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, but I mean, that's an important question!

RYAN: But what I -- what I...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it is an important question! If you're telling me the bottleneck's in the Senate, and they won't even look at some of the things that you say that you agree on, it seems to me that the president should make a phone call to Senator Reid.

RYAN: To get this economy growing, you have to have good fiscal and economic policy. The way it works in our government is you pass a budget that contains fiscal and economic policy. It's been over 900 days since the Senate bothered...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why don't they do that?

RYAN: ... trying to pass a budget.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why won't the Senate pass the budget?

RYAN: The Senate's already told us they're not going to pass one next year.


RYAN: I can't answer your question. I'm not in the Senate. We passed our budget in the House. We reformed the tax system. We got rid of the loopholes. We cut the corporate welfare, the crony capitalism. And we stopped subsidizing wealthy people as much. And we put in a plan to pay off the debt.

Have an energy policy to get more domestic sources of energy. We did all these things to get prosperity, to fuel economic growth and get upward mobility in this society. And so what I'm saying is it's a convenient distraction to prey on these emotions, to feed into class warfare and class envy, but it is no substitute for actually getting the job done on growing the economy and creating growth!

And unfortunately, I just don't think at the end of the day, he's interested in seeing these policies through. Otherwise, why wouldn't he pick them up and pass them?

VAN SUSTEREN: So it's motive?

RYAN: I'll just let -- I'll let the results conclude themselves.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So what's your thought on why the Senate won't pass the budget? Is it that maybe they...

RYAN: My personal...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... the 60 votes?

RYAN: They actually had a budget drafted, as far as I know, and I just don't think they were willing to show the American people the kind of tax increases they have in store. They were going to do a 50-50 budget, 50 percent tax increases, 50 percent savings. We already have about a $1.5 trillion tax increase starting in 14 months in America. The top tax rate that small businesses pay is going to 44.8 percent in 14 months. They were going to throw another $2 trillion tax increase on top of that.

So we were going to see a mammoth tax increase coming in 14 months if they brought the budget to the floor, the one that they wanted to pass. So I think they just basically decided to do nothing instead, take this criticism that they're not passing a budget versus show the American people the tax increases we have in store.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. You're chair of the House Budget Committee. Do you ever get a call from the White House, Let's talk?


VAN SUSTEREN: You ever get a call from the Senate, like, you know, Let's talk?


VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, you understand the insanity of that.


VAN SUSTEREN: OK, it's, like -- you know, it's, like -- I mean, the people who -- you know, who send everybody to Washington think, like, you know, Nobody can talk and -- and you know...

RYAN: So the way we look at it, we should do our jobs. We should say, Here's what we think is the right thing to do, put them in legislation, pass that legislation. We're stacking up bills like cordwood over at the United States Senate. And what we're simply saying is, if you don't like what we have, tell us what it is, and then let's talk.

VAN SUSTEREN: That makes sense! And the president should call Senator Harry Reid, say, Go through those bills and find out what you don't like and let the House know so the House just doesn't madly keep passing bills that go nowhere. Right? That'd help.

RYAN: That would help.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Ryan, always nice to see you...

RYAN: You bet, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... from the great state of Wisconsin! Nice to see you.

RYAN: Go Packers, 7 and 0.

VAN SUSTEREN: Go Packers, indeed! We're not going to get a lot of friends with that, you and I with that.