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ABC "This Week" - Transcript

Interview

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STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's get more on this now with Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He comes to us from Wisconsin this morning.

You just heard Jack Lew right there, Congressman, say that Congress should just get this payroll tax extension done. Will they?

RYAN: Well, I think we will, but what we're trying to do is simply cut spending to pay for it. You've got to remember, George, that this payroll tax holiday loses money to the Social Security Trust Fund. And if you just extend this without paying for it by cutting spending, then you're accelerating the bankruptcy of Social Security. That's all we want to do, is make sure that Social Security is left unharmed while we extend this payroll tax holiday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- and the White House agrees with that, but the point is, it seems like you're stuck on how to pay for this extension.

RYAN: Yeah, it seems as if the parties -- the president's party leaders are more or less not engaging in these conversations. We have offered literally scores of different offsets. We've taken provisions from the president's own budget as ways of paying for this payroll tax holiday, yet they continue to insist on not agreeing to those kinds of things.

So I don't know where this is going to come down to it. I do believe this will get extended. But when we make offer after offer based on policies that we know Democrats and the president have supported in the past, yet they still insist on not coming to agreement, it's difficult to see exactly how this is going to pan out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get to the broader budget. You heard Jack Lew there say that they have $2.50 of spending reductions for every tax increase. And the White House and Democrats have really targeted your plan to reform Medicare, this -- what you call premium support, they say it's a voucher system. I want to show right here the -- the ad put out, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, saying just when you thought Medicare was safe, they are back. They're saying that your plan is going to end Medicare as we know it.

Are you concerned that this -- this attack -- and we've heard Republicans pick it up, as well -- could end up costing your House majority?

RYAN: No, I'm really not concerned about that, actually, George, because we're taking responsibility for dealing with the drivers of our debt. You have to remember, George, that Medicare is going bankrupt, that the president's health care law puts a board of 15 unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare, which will lead to denied care for seniors. The president's health care law takes the $500 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare.

And so I think when you actually look at what we're proposing, we're showing that there's a bipartisan consensus in Congress on how to preserve the Medicare guarantee, how to save and strengthen the program. We don't change any benefit for anybody 55 and above, and we save this guarantee for younger generations so they can actually count on it.

So when the dust settles and people see actually what we're doing, how we're promoting bipartisan solutions, I think we're going to be fine.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But in response to some...

RYAN: I think it's irresponsible not to. Go ahead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In response to some of the criticism, you have also come up with a new plan with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, to allow people to have the choice of either taking the premium support program or sticking with traditional Medicare.

RYAN: That's right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Will that be part of your new budget?

RYAN: Well, we haven't written the budget yet. That comes out in spring. But what we're showing is that there are bipartisan leaders in Congress who have worked together, just like they did in the 1990s when it was called Breaux-Frist at that time. Alice Rivlin's been a champion of this idea. And Ron Wyden and I are working on a plan to save and strengthen the program to keep the Medicare guarantee for current and future seniors. And what we're showing is that there's a consensus on how best to save Medicare. Unfortunately, the president and his party leaders, they're not a part of this conversation. And that to me is very disappointing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you're opposed to the compromise the president announced this week on this contraception coverage, but do you have the votes in the House to block it?

RYAN: Absolutely, we do. Look, to paraphrase the bishops' letter, this thing is a distinction without a difference. It's an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It's not a compromise. The president's double -down.

What I see here in this whole episode, George, is it's a real teachable moment for America in two ways. Number one, they're treating our constitutional First Amendment rights as revocable privileges from our government, not as an inalienable rights from our creator. And number two, if this is what the president's willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he will do in implementing the rest of his health care law after an election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you heard Jack Lew right there, this is not going to force the institutions to pay for the coverage, the Catholic institutions to pay for the coverage.

RYAN: It's a distinction without a difference. It's really an accounting trick. It forces the insurance company that they have to pay to do the coverage. So instead of making the institution itself, it reinforces the insurer. And a lot of these Catholic institutions are self-insured, and all insurers under this rule must provide these mandated benefits. So it really is a distinction without a difference. This should be rescinded, not compromised like this, because I would, again, say it's not a compromise. The president's doubling down.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Coming into this week, Congress has hit a new low, 10 percent in the Gallup poll. That's lower than Richard Nixon's popularity during Watergate. You're part of the House leadership. Do you accept responsibility for that? And how can you fix it?

RYAN: What we can -- there's nowhere to go but up, I guess. But what I really want -- what I really would say is, people will realize that there's a difference between the House and the Senate. The House is controlled by Republicans. Last year, we passed a budget to save and strengthen Medicare and Social Security, to pay off our debt, to grow our economy. We passed 30 bills aimed at growing the economy that are sitting in the Senate. We passed four budget process reform bills to strengthen the way we account for taxpayer money. The Senate has done nothing.

The Senate -- against current law -- has not passed a budget in 2010, in 2011, and now Senator Reid says he's not even going to budget again in 2012. We will, because the law says we will need to, but we also think we have a moral obligation to try and fix this country's big problems before they get out of our control. And so there's a very big difference between all the action to deal with our country's big problems in the House and just the total inaction by the Senate. And I think that generally speaking, people are looking at what's coming out of all of Congress, which is nothing, but when they look at what we're actually doing, the House is acting and the Senate is sitting on their hands playing partisan politics.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Ryan, thanks very much for your time this morning.

RYAN: Thank you, George.

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