Exclusive: Rep. Ryan Talks Debt, Spending

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF “YOUR WORLD”: All right. Tim Geithner has already arrived at this House session. You’re looking at some of the congressmen and their staffs gathering. I guess this is the basement of the Capitol? Is that where they’re all gathering?

Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, he’s meeting with all the House freshmen. There are 94 of them, 85 Republican freshmen, nine Democratic freshmen. He’s meeting with them on the budget, on this whole debt ceiling issue on a day the folks at Moody’s Investors Service -- these are the big credit ratings folks who said that, look, we either get this thing raised, and soon, or we could lower the nation’s AAA credit rating.

This man has an instrumental role in all of that, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chief. He’s been vilified. He’s been lionized. He’s been "extremed."

Congressman, good to have you.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS., BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Hey, good to be with you, Neil. How you doing today?

CAVUTO: Good, sir. This meeting with Tim Geithner, he has put the fear-of-God warnings out that, if we don’t move on this and increase this ceiling -- I think he has repeatedly said just make it a clean bill, a clean up-or-down vote, something you guys offered just a couple of days ago, and was widely rejected -- we’re...

RYAN: Right.

CAVUTO: ... going to be in a heap of trouble.

What do you think?

RYAN: Well, look, he kept saying he wants a clean debt limit increase. The president said that. We said all along, you don’t have the votes for that.

So, we basically said, we will put it up and we will watch. Let’s see. And we had a group of Democrats that joined us as well. I think 89 Democrats voted with us on this.

What these credit rating downgrades show you -- I just read the last one on the BlackBerry a couple of minutes ago -- is that if we don’t get our fiscal situation under control, then they will downgrade our credit. It’s basically a statement of the fact that there’s not enough political leadership in Washington to fix this problem.

And so what I get out of these downgrade warnings is we need to get a dent on the spending and deficit as we deal with this debt limit increase. And so what is crystal-clear out of this is the need to get spending under control -- spending is the driver of our debt -- the need to get spending under control as we deal with this debt limit increase.

I actually see this debt ceiling thing as an opportunity, because the president chose not to do a budget to fix the problem. The Senate hasn’t even passed a budget and has said they’re not going to bother trying two years in a row.

We put out a budget to fix the problem. We see this as an opportunity, since the Senate stopped the budget process, to actually get a budget process going around this debt limit, and get real spending cuts, real spending controls to get a dent in the deficit and get us headed in the right direction.

CAVUTO: What if the White House still comes back with its original position, its original offer: We’re all for entertaining these spending cuts you want, Chairman, but you can’t tie it to raising the debt ceiling?

RYAN: You got that answer on Tuesday. And that answer on Tuesday is the House won’t pass it. It’s just that clear.


RYAN: ... the president knows this.

CAVUTO: So, you know what they are going to say. And you know how this is played back and forth. They are going to say, well, then, Republicans are going to bring us to the brink, Moody’s is going to lower the credit rating because, all of a sudden, we’re not going to make good on paying off our debt-holders, and Katy bar the door.

RYAN: Well, look, the president has already said he’s willing to put spending cuts to this.

He told us yesterday in the White House he’s willing to do discretionary and mandatory spending reforms, meaning cuts, as a part of the debt limit negotiations. So, I think that -- that’s already been settled. That’s what this whole entire Biden commission is all about is pairing spending cuts to the debt limit.

So, those talks are under way. They’re deep into it. And, yes, we’re talking about all kinds of spending. All spending is on the table. And we’re already way into that issue. And the president is already saying that he’s willing to cut spending.

Now, the question is, where and how do we do it? Our position is really simple, Neil. For every dollar the president wants to raise the debt limit, we’re saying cut more than a dollar’s worth of spending, so that we get the trajectory headed in the right direction, so that we can improve our nation’s credit, so we can improve the ability of our nation to actually pay our bonds due when they come due.

That would help us with our credit ratings. And that’s been confirmed by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.

CAVUTO: We’re told when this -- you had this session at the White House a couple of days ago with some of the Republican leaders meeting with the president, that it got testy with you and the president.

Did it?

RYAN: No, I don’t think so.

Obviously, the media wasn’t there, so there’s hearsay. But I simply wanted to clear the air. And I wanted to clear the air on what it is we did propose for Medicare. We proposed a premium support system, which is similar to the kind of system the Clinton commission proposed, where Medicare offers seniors guaranteed-coverage options that they set up, just like Medicare does today...

CAVUTO: Right.

RYAN: ... with Medigap insurance and Medicare Advantage and prescription drug benefits. And then Medicare subsidizes their premiums based on who they are, less if you’re wealthy, more if you’re poor and you’re sick, more...


CAVUTO: Yes, but they carried that a step further, Congressman, by these -- they’re calling you a granny-killer in a spot...

RYAN: Yes. So, that’s the point I was making...


CAVUTO: ... even featuring the guy who looked like you throwing granny off the cliff.

RYAN: Yes. No, I -- I saw the ad.

CAVUTO: Did that bother you?

RYAN: Yes, you know, you can’t make this stuff up.

Actually, this is so farcical, it just shows -- this is why I think we’re getting these downgradings, because they’re seeing such a leadership deficit in Washington on these issues.

And the point I was making to the president is, demagogue these issues at your own peril. That’s -- demagoguery is not leadership. It’s politics.


CAVUTO: Well, what did he say? What did he say to you after that?

RYAN: He didn’t really have a lot to -- not much.

CAVUTO: Do you guys even like each other?

RYAN: You know I don’t know him well enough. I like him fine. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s the president of the United States. He’s a smart guy. But he’s not showing the leadership we need to deal with this debt crisis. He hasn’t put a debt -- a budget out to fix the problem. He gave us a speech that still doesn’t fix the problem. His leaders in the Senate have chosen not to do a budget.

And what is the biggest issue facing our economy and our country today? A budget crisis. It’s affecting job creation today. It’s affecting the markets. It’s affecting investments.

And he’s chosen to do nothing on leading. And he’s allowed his political leaders to demagogue Republicans on this, which makes it harder for us to get agreement on how to fix this problem.


CAVUTO: But it’s more than just that, right? I mean, even Republicans are -- they kind of left you, no offense, at the edge of a cliff.

RYAN: Not at all. No, not at all.

CAVUTO: Well, Donald Trump was on our air, this very air.

RYAN: Yes.

CAVUTO: He was trashing you and trashing this whole plan.

(CROSSTALK) RYAN: I have heard that.

CAVUTO: Did that bother you?

RYAN: No, it really doesn’t bother me, because when you lead and when you step out and put reforms out there, you’re going to get this kind of - - these kinds of comments.

I don’t know Donald Trump, and I don’t know that he’s read our plan. This is as gradual as it gets. We don’t affect the benefits for people above 55 years old on Medicare. In fact, we restore their benefits by repealing the Obamacare raid on the Medicare fund and the rationing board they put in charge of Medicare. We repeal that.

We keep Medicare for everybody 55 and above and reform it for the next generation, so that we can save the program and so that we can cash-flow it for current generation of seniors.

When people know the facts about what we’ve proposed, they’re extremely supportive. And when they know the facts are that we have put out a plan to literally not just balance the budget, but pay off the debt, get this economy growing, and save Medicare, at the end of the day, I believe facts win. Good policy is good politics.

CAVUTO: But, in the meantime, in the interim -- that may be the end of the day -- but, in the meantime, a crucial race in Upstate New York...

RYAN: Yes.

CAVUTO: ... has been pegged...

RYAN: Sure.

CAVUTO: ... to your plan and the Democratic candidate capitalizing on it, saying you’re going to kill grandma and all this other stuff.

RYAN: Right.

CAVUTO: Fairly or not, do you think that the other side is getting the better of the emotional debate?

RYAN: So, fair or not, they‘ve decided to scare seniors by distorting and demagoguing.

I believe that when people see the facts and realize that they’ve been lied to, I think they’re going to be on the wrong end of that exchange with the American people.

People are smart. They get this stuff. They will find out that they have been misled. And, more importantly, I really think the country’s way ahead of the political class up here, and they want us putting ideas on the table to fix this problem, to solve this country’s fiscal -- financial problems, so we get this economy growing and get this debt crisis under control.

And so we’re seeing warning sign after warning sign about what we need to do to fix this problem, so we can create jobs and prosperity and get a debt crisis off the horizon. And we’re not seeing the political leadership we see -- we need. We’re giving it in the House, and we’re getting demagoguery in exchange.

And I really -- Neil, I really believe, in the long run, within a handful of months, people will see who’s leading and who’s not, and they will reward that leadership, I believe.

CAVUTO: Speaking of leadership, Congressman, we had a fellow on yesterday who wants to recruit you to run for president. In fact, many in your party have, this whole Medicare controversy notwithstanding, and, for most, precisely because of it.

You’ve always said no. What could change your mind?

RYAN: Look, I think I want to see how this field develops. I think there are going to be other people getting in the race.

You know, I was hoping Mitch Daniels was going to get in the race. He obviously didn’t do that.

CAVUTO: Right.

RYAN: But there’s so -- there’s such a long way to go. Obviously, I believe Republicans need to retake the White House.

CAVUTO: But you’re holding out that possibility if the field doesn’t develop to your liking?

RYAN: No. No, I’m not really thinking like that. I’m not giving it serious consideration, because, to do that, you really have to get in this thing full-throttle. And I really believe, Neil, where I am right now, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, leading the fight here in Congress, I think I can make a big contribution to that debate.

I think I can help finish the debate that I helped start. And I think that’s doing a great service to this country. And that’s just where I feel like I can be most effective at this time.

CAVUTO: Paul Ryan, I didn’t think you looked anything like that guy pushing the wheelchair, but many on my staff did. I have no idea why.


RYAN: It’s all right.

CAVUTO: Mr. Chairman, Paul Ryan, thank you very much.

Heads the House Budget Committee, as they say, a rising star in the party.

Thank you very much.

RYAN: You bet, Neil.

Content and Programming Copyright 2011 Fox News Network, Inc. Copyright CQ-2011 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.