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STEPHANOPOULOS: And Congressman Ryan joins us now, along with the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us. And Congressman Ryan, let me begin with you. I want to get to the budget, but first just a little bit of politics. Mitt Romney is predicting victory in your state on Tuesday. Is he right, and will that effectively end this nomination fight?
RYAN: I think he will win, but we expect a close race. We always have close races here in Wisconsin. And I do think if Mitt wins this - we also have Maryland and D.C. I think Mitt has a really good chance of winning a lot of delegates on Tuesday, and so yes, I think conservatives should coalesce around the Romney campaign and move on to the general election. And I hope a big victory on Tuesday will do just that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You are already on the short list to be Romney's vice president. I know you're not going to say much about that this morning, but many Democrats--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are actually excited about that prospect, because they believe that this ties Romney even more closely to your budget, which passed the House this week. And you heard the president. They are prepared to argue that this is going to cripple government programs that working Americans rely on. Your response?
RYAN: I am excited about going to the country with the choice of two futures. The president has been ducking this debt crisis all along. The Senate is not even passing a budget. We have the most predictable economic crisis coming in America, a debt crisis, and we're doing something about it. And so I think people are going to see through these partisan attacks. The president has been in campaign mode all along, and I think they want a leader who's going to address problems like Mitt Romney. I don't think they want somebody who's just going to be campaigning all of the time and ignoring the drivers of our debt, which will imperil our economy and our children's future. So I think we need to bring this referendum to the country, and I'm looking forward to this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Van Hollen, what about that charge, ducking responsibility here? You know, every single Democrat in the House voted against Congressman Ryan's budget, but they also voted -- every single one -- against the president's budget. And as the congressman said, the Senate hasn't -- Senate Democrats haven't put forward a budget in three years. Isn't that abdicating responsibility?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, first of all, George, the vote in the House was not on the president's budget. It was a total charade. The president made clear that the House Democratic alternative budget was much closer to his proposal, and that got overwhelming support. Look, the issue is not whether we reduce the deficit. We have to do that. The issue is how. And I'm not at all surprised that Mitt Romney has endorsed the Republican House plan. That plan asks nothing, nothing of the wealthiest Americans, and therefore it hits everybody else. It hits seniors on Medicare, it hits middle-income taxpayers, it guts important investments to keep our economy strong. It would whack our investment in transportation when we have big unemployment in the construction area. So the president has put forward a balanced plan that says we've got to make some tough cuts, but we're also going to close some of these tax loopholes and raise some revenue. Because if you don't look at both sides of the equation, you have to hold harmless the folks at the very top and hit everybody else, and that's what the Republican budget does. It does not have that balance.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Congressman Ryan, you also are holding harmless or restoring a lot of the cuts that President Obama would call for in defense, and Democrats have called for. You caused a bit of a stir this week when you appeared to suggest that the generals supporting, who were testifying for the president's budget, were being disingenuous in presenting their budget. You said you don't believe they are giving true advice, or that their budget is really the right budget. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, took exception to that. He said, "There is a difference between having someone say they don't believe what you said versus calling us collectively liars. My response is I stand by my testimony." Did you cross the line there?
RYAN: Yes, I totally misspoke. It was not the impression I meant to give. I talked to General Dempsey on it and expressed that sentiment.
My issue is I think that the president's budget on the Pentagon is a budget-driven strategy, not a strategy-driven budget. He announced the number of the cuts he wanted for the Pentagon, and then he began the strategy review to conform to that number. We take $300 billion out of defense spending versus the $500 billion that the president does in his budget. We think there are savings to be gotten there, but I think the president's hollowing it out. Because in other words, he's spending more money on every other aspect of government. $1.5 trillion in more domestic spending, and $2 trillion in higher taxes. So balance in Washington these days -- spend more, borrow more, tax more, have a debt crisis. That to me isn't balanced.
And with respect to the wealthy, we're saying, stop subsidizing the wealthy. Don't subsidize their health care benefits as much. Stop subsidizing corporations with crony capitalism, and close the tax shelters and loopholes that are disproportionately used by the wealthy so that we can get more tax revenue by having a broader tax base with lower rates, which we believe there is an emerging Democrat-Republican bipartisan consensus on doing that, and so we reflect that emerging consensus. Unfortunately, our friends in the White House and the Democratic leadership don't want to be a part of that consensus.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about closing those loopholes, Congressman?
VAN HOLLEN: George, the Ryan plan, the Republican plan, does not ask for one penny, not one penny from the wealthiest for the purpose of deficit reduction. In fact, they are doubling down on tax cuts for the very wealthy. They are proposing to drop the top marginal rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. That generates $4.6 trillion in lost revenue. They say they're going to make that up. They're going to get rid of all the provisions in the tax code that help middle-income Americans, so they'll end up financing tax cuts - another round of tax cuts -- for the folks at the very top by increasing the tax burden on middle-income Americans.
And in fact, we had a vote on an amendment in the Budget Committee that says, OK, let's make sure that doesn't happen. Let's hold Americans below $250,000 in income harmless, make sure they don't get hit. Every Republican voted against that amendment. So the reality is, their proposal not only locks in the Bush tax cuts for the folks at the top, but it would finance additional tax cuts for them by whacking middle-income taxpayers. That's just not acceptable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll move on to health care, but quickly, Congressman, your response to that.
RYAN: Well, that amendment was trying to kill our budget. We're saying, just don't raise taxes. The number Chris is using presumes a huge tax increase in the fall. We don't want a huge tax increase because it's going to slow down the economy. So we're saying, bringing the same amount of revenue we're bringing in today, but do it more fairly, with a better, simpler, more competitive tax system. Take the loopholes and tax shelters away so you can lower everybody's tax rates across the board. That produces jobs and economic growth. And it's not just Republicans saying it. There are a lot of Democrats who agree with us.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on to the Supreme Court arguments--
VAN HOLLEN: Yes, but the Democrats--
RYAN: We say don't subsidize the wealthy with their spending.
VAN HOLLEN: But Paul, you know that every bipartisan group that's out there has said let's take a portion of the revenue for the purpose of deficit reduction. That way you don't have to whack seniors on Medicare and you don't have to hit student loans and you don't have to gut transportation investments.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I've got to move to health care at this point, and Congressman Van Hollen, let me bring this to you, because the president's health care plan did seem to take a beating, at least in the questioning from the Supreme Court justices. And the president's advocate, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, came under fire for his presentation. I want to show a bit of it.
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DONALD VERRILLI, SOLICITOR GENERAL: Insurance has become the predominant means of paying for health care in his country. For most Americans, for more than 80 percent of Americans, the insurance system does provide effective access. Excuse me.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Verrilli make the best case, and what will it mean if the Supreme Court strikes down health care?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, George, I don't want to get into the actual the presentation and the style. I think the substance is very clear, and it is one that Republicans supported in the past. The notion that every individual should take responsibility for getting their health care, otherwise the free riders in this system end up driving costs for everybody else.
Look, I don't think anybody knows how the Supreme Court rules.
What I do know is that the overwhelming majority of the American people know that the health care system had been broken. When kids and others are denied health care because they have asthma or diabetes or other pre-existing conditions, that's a broken health care system. The Affordable Care Act is designed to address that issue. You saw premiums in the health care industry doubling between the year 2000 and 2008. Profits in the insurance companies quadrupled. That's unacceptable. And when our Republican friends said -- when they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was one of their first measures in Congress -- they said they were going to come up with a proposal to address all these other issues. As we gather here today, they haven't done that.
And so I think that if the court were to strike this down, it would be a big loss for the American people. We're trying to finally reduce costs in the health care system and prevent people from being denied coverage by insurance companies.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If it does go down, Congressman Ryan, that will put the burden back on the opponents to come up with a replace part of replace and repeal. What would that be?
RYAN: Well, several of us have actually offered replacement legislation. It would be a decentralized, market-based system that's patient-centered, where everybody has access to affordable health insurance, including people with pre-existing conditions. And we can do it in a way that does not involve a costly government takeover. We can do it in a way that doesn't involve the government effectively taking over and running the health care industry.
If you look at the Affordable Care Act, since it passed, health care costs have gone up. If you look at the CBO, the cost of this law has doubled since it passed. And so if the Supreme Court would interpret that this is constitutional, that the government can make you buy something, then there really is no limit to what the government can do in our lives, and clearly that's not what the founders intended when they wrote the Constitution. So we believe we can have a better health care system without a costly government takeover.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Congressman Van Hollen, what do the Democrats do if this goes down? Do you simply take on the court as the president did in Citizens United, or do you try to come up with a new, perhaps bipartisan plan?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, first, George, obviously we hope that the court will uphold this. Look, you've got -- if they were to strike this down on constitutional grounds, I think most people understand the only approach you can take after to get everybody covered, everybody in the pool, is to go to a Medicare-for-all-type proposal. That's something Republicans have rejected. That's why they had proposed the approach that is in the Affordable Care Act. That's why Mitt Romney took that approach up in Massachusetts, because that is the one way that everybody gets into the insurance poll.
Look, I think if the court were to strike this down, we have to ask our Republican colleagues for the replace half of what had been repeal and replace, and the proposal that Paul and others have put forward, I just want to make it clear. It would say to folks who don't get health insurance, you're going to be taxed more. So, in a sense, it's saying -- it is just a different approach, with one major exception. Because they don't insure everybody getting into the pool, they would allow a lot of free riders to use the health care system. That drives up the costs to everybody else.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Ryan, even the advocate for the opponent's law did seem to suggest that a broader government program might be the cleaner way to address this issue.
RYAN: No, I disagree with that. It's not Medicare for all. What this new Obamacare is, it's basically Medicaid for all, according to all the health care experts, and it's going to collapse our health care system. It's going to drive up costs and it is going to restrict choices.
Now, we believe that there are better ways to go with a patient-centered system. Many of us have offered bills to do this. Tom Coburn, Devin Nunes and Richard Burr and I, during Obamacare's deliberations, offered these ideas to the Democrats and the president. We were completely rejected because they wanted a partisan law, and that's what we got.
So we believe that we can have a system where everybody can have affordable health insurance, including people with preexisting conditions, without a costly government takeover, without all this new spending and without restricting choices and without limiting access to all the different options that people would like to have in a free-market society.
So I think there's a better way to go to address what Chris identified as legitimate problems in health care. But clearly, a government takeover is not the way to go, and we do have what we think are better ideas in addressing this legitimate problem.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time. I want to get one more issue in here, gas prices. Congressman Van Hollen, you have already got a group saying -- American Energy Alliance spending about $3.5 million to take on the president on this issue of gas prices and the way the president has handled it. Take a look.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since Obama became president, gas prices have nearly doubled. Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska. He gave millions of tax dollars to Solyndra, which then we bankrupt. And he blocked the Keystone pipeline. So we'll all pay more at the pump.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: These arguments seem to be gaining traction. More Americans than ever are blaming the president for that pain at the pump.
VAN HOLLEN: George, it's interesting to hear all these folks who on the one hand say they believe in the free market turning around and blaming the president for this, because we all know there are lots of factors that go into gas and oil prices.
Look, the reality is, you have got a lot of speculation in the oil markets driven in part because of what's happening in the Persian Gulf. The president has reached out to other oil-producing countries around the world. And they have got a strategy now to get more oil on the market. That should drive down prices. It should begin to pop that speculative bubble. And I would point out, part of the Republican budget would strip funding from the one cop on the beat that we have right now, the CFTC, that is supposed to prevent massive and excessive speculation in the marketplace. We all know that a big part of the price, over 50 cents of the price right now, is as a result of that speculation. We should pop that bubble, and the president is doing a good job in trying to accomplish that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Ryan, do you support that program that I think Congressman Van Hollen is alluding to, that idea that a group of international nations (inaudible) United States will release petroleum from their reserves?
RYAN: I call it the political pixie dust in an election year. It really doesn't do a lot. Instead of begging the Saudis to sell us more of their oil, what our budget does is says let's go and explore more of our own oil. Let's get our oil that is locked on public lands by President Obama. Let's open up the Keystone pipeline to bring Canadian oil into our country to dramatically reduce our dependency on foreign oil. It creates jobs here in America. It lowers gas prices, increases supply. And just by passing this legislation, you'll improve the prices in the futures market, because you'll see that all this new American-made energy is coming online. Unfortunately, the president is standing in the way of all of those kinds of reforms, and so he's resorting to what I call these sort of policy gimmicks that in the past really haven't done a whole lot to change the outcome.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the last word today. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
VAN HOLLEN: Domestic oil production is at an all-time high. I think we know that's a fact.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We've got to go. Thank you very much.
RYAN: That's private land, not public land.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And as our roundtable take their seats, listen to more from the Supreme Court at that historic hearing on health care.
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