On This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Rep. Paul Ryan, he of the "courageous" budget plan that isn't courageous at all, spins a tale that the main thing on voters' minds is the national debt. Really, Paul? You must not get out much. You really
May 1, 2011

On This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Rep. Paul Ryan, he of the "courageous" budget plan that isn't courageous at all, spins a tale that the main thing on voters' minds is the national debt. Really, Paul? You must not get out much. You really need to stop going to fundraising events and hit your local WalMart parking lots.

I also want to point out the gaping hole in what Amanpour says later in the show:

But what about the figures, the basic arithmetic? I mean, it is complex. You go to these town hall meetings, and the presentations are complex. And even people with vaguely conversant views on all of this find it difficult to understand. Is there a way to figure out what the actual math is without entering political and ideological debates? Is there a way to balance this budget, to reduce the debt, to get a hold of it without sort of hewing to very different political views?

Is she kidding me? As Mario Cuomo once pointed out, a budget is a moral document. How on earth do you talk about taking care of the poor and vulnerable without bringing party philosophies into the picture? What a dope. Anywhere, here's the interview:

AMANPOUR: But first, we turn to a different sort of battle being waged right here in the United States. It's a budget battle, of course, and this was the week Republican Congress members went home to defend their sweeping budget plan before their constituents. And the reception at one town hall after another was rocky.

The plan is the brain child of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who's feeling some of the heat himself. I traveled to Wisconsin to see how Ryan is weathering the storm.


AMANPOUR: How are the crowds increasing and their levels of anxiety and frustration?

RYAN: It's increasing, no two ways about it.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Congressman Ryan is at the center of the storm. It's his plan, of course, that has sparked the outcries. Across the country, the anger is palpable.

(UNKNOWN): May I finish?



(UNKNOWN): You went and gave away all those tax cuts.

AMANPOUR: We've seen Republican congressmen fending off boos and catcalls from constituents over a plan to fundamentally overhaul two programs that millions of Americans have come to count on, Medicare and Medicaid.

RYAN: Hey, guys. How are you doing?

AMANPOUR: With Congress in recess, Ryan is holding as many as four town meetings a day, and it's still not enough to keep up with demand from his constituents.

(UNKNOWN): What I can do is I can give you a list of the other listening sessions we have scheduled today.

RYAN: The crowds are really getting bigger, and people are getting much more anxious about just where the country's headed.

AMANPOUR: This is the tail end of the marathon series of town halls for Ryan, who seems wholly unconcerned with the heat he's taking these days. Though the crowds we saw in Wisconsin were mostly friendly, some of his town meetings have been contentious.

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) trickle down.


(CROSSTALK) RYAN: It's a sign of the times, I think. I think it's a sign of anxiety of the times. It's also a sign of the misinformation that's been perpetrated out there.

AMANPOUR (on-screen): Well, why do you say "misinformation"?

RYAN: Well, there are TV, radio and phone calls that are running, trying to scare seniors. You know, the Democratic National Committee is running phone calls to seniors in my district, TV ads, saying we're hurting current seniors when, in fact, that's not the case. And so there's a lot of...

AMANPOUR: Isn't that, though, par for the course?


AMANPOUR: I mean, didn't you lot do it the last time?

RYAN: Yes, Republicans -- Republicans -- both parties do this to each other. And my whole point about that is, that's why we have this political paralysis.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): On the day we joined him, the gym at Franklin High School fills up well before the congressman arrives.


AMANPOUR: Ryan's presentation is earnest and, it must be said, wonky.

RYAN: This pie chart shows you our federal government, basically its budget for last year.

AMANPOUR: The most controversial aspect of Paul Ryan's budget plan would transform Medicare. He knows that could be political poison with seniors, and so he makes sure to remind those in the crowd the changes wouldn't impact them.

RYAN: How many of you are 55 years of age or older? This budget does not affect your Medicare benefits.

That's supposed to work because they think we don't give a damn about our kids and grandkids.

AMANPOUR: But for many, that leaves more questions than answers, especially since budget watchdogs estimate the Medicare revamp would cost people who are now under 55 thousands of dollars out of pocket each year once their benefits kick in, and that has some here in Franklin very concerned.

(UNKNOWN): ... because it's going to be a real burden for them, especially with the economy coming up. And I think about all of the 54-year-olds who have been unemployed. Where are they going to come up with this money in 10 years to last their whole lifetime?

AMANPOUR: Ryan argues delay is not an option.

RYAN: Put these reforms in now, they don't take effect for 10 years to give people time to prepare. If we keep kicking the can down the road and if we keep going trillions of dollars deeper in the hole, then the reforms are going to be sudden, urgent, and severe, and immediate, and people won't have -- that are going to catch them by surprise.

AMANPOUR: Then the session ends...

RYAN: I appreciate you coming out.

AMANPOUR: ... and Congressman Ryan is off. I stayed back to speak with two of the women in the audience, Jackie (ph) and Lois (ph), each with very different perspectives on the congressman's plan.

(UNKNOWN): I don't appreciate it at all, and that burns my potatoes. And I think it's not fair. And I think it's selfish and self-centered. You're worried about the seniors of today, and we have the seniors of tomorrow. We need to be worried about them, too. And there's a better way of fixing this plan, this problem that we didn't get into, but we always got to be the ones.

AMANPOUR (on-screen): Did you vote for Paul Ryan?

(UNKNOWN): No. No.

AMANPOUR: Did you?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Lois says Ryan is trying to fix the problem before time and money run out.

(on-screen): The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that the average senior will end up paying some $6,500 more for their health care.

(UNKNOWN): In 10 years.


(UNKNOWN): By 2020, the whole plan Obama has is going to crash.

RYAN: A few sentences later, CBO also said that the status quo of Medicare is unsustainable.

AMANPOUR: Maybe, but it's going to shift a huge burden on to the elderly.

RYAN: Right. But what the CBO also forgot to add is that we're giving an additional $7,800 for low-income seniors on top of that. And I would argue -- and CBO concurs with this -- comparing any Medicare reform plan with the Medicare status quo is a fiscal fantasy. The Medicare status quo is not going be able to occur, because it's unsustainable.

The CBO actually predicts a huge increase in how much the feds would spend on healthcare for the elderly under the Ryan plan. So he's lying.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And Ryan dismisses any talk that tackling this thorny issue will cost Republicans at the polls.

(on-screen): And now people are getting worried, people in your party. Perhaps they might think it might even cost them the election.

RYAN: Sure. And I hear this all the time from the political people, from the pundits and the pollsters that this could be -- this could hurt us politically. I don't care about that. What I care about is fixing this country and getting this debt situation under control.

Look, literally, Christiane, if all we fear about is our political careers, then we have no business having these jobs. If you want to good at these jobs, you've got to be willing to lose the job.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Still, politically it's a delicate dance. Just listen to Speaker John Boehner discuss Ryan's plan in an interview with ABC's Jon Karl.

BOEHNER: It's Paul's idea. Other people have other ideas. I'm not wedded to one single idea.

AMANPOUR (on-screen): How do you feel when Speaker Boehner tells ABC News that he's not wedded to your program, it's a good idea, it's one of many?

RYAN: I've talked to John about this. It's an institutional statement reflecting budget resolutions. And what a budget resolution -- which is what we've passed -- it's the architecture of a budget.

AMANPOUR: So you didn't take it personally about...


RYAN: No, not at all. I didn't take it personally. It's not -- it wasn't meant to be personal. I don't take it that way.

AMANPOUR: Are you sure about that?

RYAN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I've talked to him quite a bit about this.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And with that, we arrive at our next stop.

RYAN: Hey, folks. Nice to see you. Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Some boos, but mostly cheers. The crowd is largely supportive.

(UNKNOWN): And I'd like to thank you for being a bold person and standing up and saying, "Listen, we can't continue this way."

AMANPOUR: Still, this man is angry that Ryan's plan refuses to consider raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

(UNKNOWN): Borrow the money from the rich, fix the problem.

RYAN: Look, I think a lot of people think this is sort of like the magic fairy dust of budgets, that we can just make a small amount of people pay some more taxes and it will fix all of our problems. Well, let's keep our eye on the ball. The eye on the ball is spending. And the sooner we get this thing under control, the better off everybody is going to be.

AMANPOUR (on-screen): How do you feel about being the bogeyman in this whole budget business?

RYAN: You know, I don't really think about it. I sleep well at night.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): At the end of the day, Congressman Ryan and I sit down to talk about the bottom line.

(on-screen): People who've been studying your numbers very carefully and -- have been saying that the numbers don't add up.

RYAN: Well, the Congressional Budget Office Says they do.

AMANPOUR: Well, it also says that two-thirds of the savings that you want to make in the spending cuts come at the expense of programs designed for the poor, for the disadvantaged, and this is reverse Robin Hood-ism, if you like, take from the poor, give back to the rich again.

RYAN: Yeah, sure, I've heard that. Yeah, I would disagree with that. First of all, spending increases in this budget. Spending on the safety net increases, but it increases at a more sustainable rate. Here's the problem, Christiane. The safety net we have right now is going bankrupt. It's tearing apart at the seams.

AMANPOUR: What you're proposing seems like it's going to put a lot of the burden on the seniors. They're worried that they're not going to be able to afford the cost of health insurance.

RYAN: So we're saying give the most vulnerable people more money to cover their expenses and don't give wealthy people as much money to cover their expenses because they're wealthy and they should be able to afford more. But we're also saying is, you've got to get at the root cause of health inflation. Even President Obama is saying slow the growth rate of Medicare.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): For now, the president and the congressman seem far apart. And as we crisscross his Wisconsin district, I ask Paul Ryan if some grand budget bargain could be in the offing.

(on-screen): Do you think that these massive issues that you're dealing with, the budget, let's say, can be done only by one party?

RYAN: No. No, I don't. I think it's going to have...

AMANPOUR: So you have to negotiate?

RYAN: Oh, yeah, absolutely, yeah.

AMANPOUR: You have to work together?

RYAN: Yes, I think so.

AMANPOUR: Is that atmosphere available...


RYAN: No, not right now.

AMANPOUR: It's not, is it?

RYAN: Look, we're probably not going to get some grand-slam agreement that fixes all of these problems. My now hope is to get a single or a double, you know, to get something done that gets us on the right path.


AMANPOUR: Congressman Ryan says that he expects Republicans and Democrats to agree on some fiscal controls to lock in spending levels, but he says a big-picture deal on the debt crisis probably won't happen before the 2012 election. And it's what the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, said also on this program a couple of weeks ago.

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