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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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Chairman, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): Hey, good morning, David. Nice to be with you.

MR. GREGORY: I want to get your, your reaction to the Daniels news because he is, in many ways, a kindred spirit on a lot of these fiscal issues, fiscal discipline. He won't be a part of that 2012 conversation as a candidate. A big blow to the party, do you think?

REP. RYAN: Well, he called me last night and gave me the news about this, so quite frankly, yes, I am disappointed. I think his candidacy would have been a great addition to this race, and I think it's unfortunate that he's not going to run.

MR. GREGORY: What about your own plans? There's a move afoot this morning, one of the big trending stories is whether you might actually join the race with a fiscal discipline message for 2012. Will it happen?

REP. RYAN: Well, look, I've been very clear about this. I'm not running for president. I feel, because we are in a big budget debate, I'm in a great position as chairman of the House Budget Committee to really weigh in on this debate. And I feel at the moment we are in, I want to stay focused on where we are right now, and that is getting our fiscal house in order.

MR. GREGORY: So under no circumstances would you run or be on the ticket as a number two?

REP. RYAN: Look, I, I'm not going to get into all those hypotheticals. I'm not running for president, I'm not planning on running for president. If you're running for president, you've got to do a lot of things to line up a candidacy. I've not done any of those things. It's not my plan. My plan is to be a good chairman of the House Budget Committee and fight for the fiscal sanity of this nation.

MR. GREGORY: Understood. There's a little bit of door opening there, though, the door's a bit ajar. And you know how, you know how this works.

REP. RYAN: It's not door opening, it's just--I do know how this works, and I'm not going to get into all these hypotheticals in the future. My point is I'm not running for president. You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road. I'm not talking about right now. And I want to focus on fixing the fiscal problems of this country. And I really believe, David, where I am as chairman of the House Budget Committee puts me in a great position to, to be a great contributor to this debate.

MR. GREGORY: OK. Stay where you are, Chairman, please. The other big political story this week, of course, had to do with Newt Gingrich. He's in Iowa this weekend. He says his presidential campaign is alive and well despite a very tough week that began with his criticism of my guest, Paul Ryan, whose plan to reform Medicare is now the hot topic in Washington and on the campaign trail. We're going to continue our interview with Chairman Ryan in just a moment, but first some of the background.

Just days after announcing his White House run, Gingrich made his 35th appearance on this program and shocked many by upending a centerpiece of the conservative 2012 playbook by calling Ryan's Medicare plan "right wing social engineering."

(Videotape, last Sunday)

REP. GINGRICH: So there are things you can do to improve Medicare...

MR. GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.

REP. GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Gingrich made headlines, but not the ones he wanted.

(Audiotape, Tuesday, WLS)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): To somehow portray that as a radical step, I think, is a tremendous misspeak.

(End audiotape)

(Videotape, Monday)

MR. RUSH LIMBAUGH: Cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees, it supports the Obama administration.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: He was even confronted by a voter during his first swing through Iowa.


Unidentified Man: What you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable.

REP. GINGRICH: I didn't do anything to Paul Ryan.

Man: Yes, you did.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: By Tuesday, Gingrich began backtracking.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

REP. GINGRICH: I made a mistake, and I called Paul Ryan today, who's a very close, personal friend, and I said that.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: But other conservatives had already moved in.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK): And it sounded pretty clear to me that Newt Gingrich's position, because he articulated this, was that Paul Ryan's plan would be social engineering, and he didn't like it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: By Thursday, Gingrich moved on to denial.

(Videotape, Thursday)

REP. GINGRICH: It was not a reference to Paul Ryan. There was no reference to Paul Ryan in that answer.

MR. LIMBAUGH: Well, then what did you apologize to him about?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Missteps that gave political commentators and comedians alike material all week long.


REP. GINGRICH: So let me say on the record, any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, and--because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.

MR. JON STEWART: You know, I, I've always found the hallmark of an honest conversation is one that begins with, "If you quote me directly, utilizing videotape of my comments in context, you're lying."

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: The bigger issue beyond Gingrich's campaign is the sensitivity he exposed among Republicans to Ryan's budget plan, including Medicare. Just how far will and should the GOP go to tackle the debt in this election season?

And I'm back with Chairman Paul Ryan.

How did you respond to all of this?

REP. RYAN: Well, first of all, his quote was deeply inaccurate. It was a gross mischaracterization of the House Republican budget plan. Newt's acknowledged that, he's retracted it. And let's be clear what we're proposing here. This is as sensible and gradual as it gets. We're saying no changes for Medicare for people above the age of 55. And in order to keep the promise to current seniors who've already retired and organized their lives around this program, you have to reform it for the next generation. And the way in which we propose reforming for the next generation, it's in keeping with the Bill Clinton bipartisan commission that--to reform Medicare, it's an idea that's been around for a long time called premium support: guaranteed coverage options for Medicare where the government subsidizes the poor and the sick a whole lot more than the wealthy, and people get to choose. If I could put it in a nutshell, we're saying don't affect current seniors, give future seniors the ability to deny business to inefficient providers. As a contrary to that, the president's plan is to give the government the power to deny care to seniors by empowering a panel of 15 unelected bureaucrats...

MR. GREGORY: What...

REP. RYAN: put price controls and rationing in place for current seniors. So I would argue that the opposite is true. We're being sensible, we're being rational, and we're saving this program. And you cannot deal with this debt crisis, David, unless you're serious about entitlement reform. And, unfortunately, I think we're going to have "mediscare" all over again, and that's unfortunate for the country.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, we're going to, we're going to get to that, Congressman. Was this demagoguery on the part of Newt Gingrich? That's what you warned happens on both sides when you were here in April on the approach to big problems.


MR. GREGORY: This was demagoguery on the part of Newt Gingrich.

REP. RYAN: No, I think that, that quote is deeply inaccurate. It's a gross mischaracterization. And again, Newt has already said that it was wrong, he was wrong to say it, and he's, he's basically retracted the statement. And he has apologized to me personally for that.

MR. GREGORY: Well, but, but, here's the issue.

REP. RYAN: It's not about me personally, this is about the House Republican budget.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Right, it--I don't think anybody thinks it's about you personally. The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Tuesday the following, I'll put it up on the screen: "Mr. Gingrich chose to throw his former allies in the GOP House not so much under the bus as off the Grand Canyon rim. ...

"Our guess is that a politician as experienced as Mr. Gingrich knew exactly what he was doing and that as he runs for president, he wants to appear to be more moderate than he has sounded over the last, oh, 20 years, by suddenly triangulating against the GOP House he once led." The implication there, Mr. Chairman, is that he did know what he was doing because what he said out loud is what a lot of Republicans I've spoken to say privately, and they're scared to death about the politics of what you're proposing. They think it's just handing a huge issue to the Democrats.

REP. RYAN: Look, of course people are scared of entitlement reform because every time you put entitlement reform out there, the other party uses it as a political weapon against you. Look, both parties have done this to each other. Here's the problem, David. If we don't get serious about these issues, if we don't get serious about the drivers of our debt, we're going to have a debt crisis. And the irony of this is all if we don't fix these programs, people who rely on these benefits are going to get cut the first, they're going to be hurt the worst under a debt crisis. We're saying, if we fix this now, we can keep the current promise to current seniors and people 10 years away from retiring. If we allow politics to get the best of us...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. RYAN: ...and if we allow the demagoguery to sink in and do nothing, then we will have a debt crisis. Then current seniors will get hurt. So who's being rational and responsible here? I think we want to get above all of this. Look, here in Wisconsin, people are ready for answers. They want leadership. The Senate Democrats haven't even proposed or passed a budget for 753 days. So we House Republicans have put out a plan to fix this problem, save Medicare, and, in fact, pay off the debt over time.

MR. GREGORY: All right, but, but Chairman...

REP. RYAN: We have seen nothing of the like from the president and the Senate Democrats.

MR. GREGORY: OK. But here's the problem. According to our polling, nearly eight in 10 Americans do not want to cut spending for Medicare, even in the name of cutting the debt. You, I assume, are not doing all of this as an intellectual exercise. You would actually like to get reform accomplished. There's the question of how much damage Newt Gingrich has done, former speaker of the House, presidential candidate. He was in Iowa and he was confronted by a voter, and I want to play a portion of that and get your response to it.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

Unidentified Man: What you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable.

MR. NEWT GINGRICH: I didn't do anything to Paul Ryan.

Man: Yes, you did. You undercut him and his allies in the, in the House.

MR. GINGRICH: No. I said...

Man: You're an embarrassment to our party.

MR. GINGRICH: Well, I'm sorry you feel that way.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: How much damage has he done?

REP. RYAN: I--how much damage have I done?

MR. GREGORY: No. How much damage has Newt Gingrich done to your effort to reform Medicare?

REP. RYAN: Oh, Newt. Excuse me. I didn't hear you correctly.


REP. RYAN: Look, I'm not a pundit, I'm a policy maker. I'll let you and your panel figure that out, and that's up to the voters to figure this stuff out. The point is this, we've got to get beyond this and we've got to get on to a serious conversation about what it takes to fix the fiscal problems in this country. And if we don't tackle these problems now while we have time, they're going to tackle us. And our whole point here is we need to pre-empt and avert a debt crisis, and the way we are--have proposed to do that is do it on our terms and prevent people who are currently retired and people about to retire from having severe disruptions in their lives.

MR. GREGORY: Wait, but, Congressman...

REP. RYAN: And so the people of Iowa...

MR. GREGORY:'re not a pundit.

REP. RYAN: ...and the people of New Hampshire can figure this stuff out.

MR. GREGORY: But--yeah, but wait a second. But that, but that really is a dodge. You are the chairman of the committee, yes. You're serious about entitlement reform, yes. You're also a politician. You say you want to do it on your terms. Law does not become law without building political consensus and you don't have that. And now you've had a major figure in the Republican Party say this was right wing social engineering. So I'm wondering how much you do feel undercut...

REP. RYAN: So...

MR. GREGORY: actually getting this passed, which I assume is your goal.

REP. RYAN: First of all, if people are describing this accurately in polls, it's far more popular than the poll you've referenced. Second of all, leaders are elected to lead. I don't consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be. Leaders change the polls. And we are leading in the House. We are not seeing this kind of leadership from the president of the United States. The Senate Democrats haven't even proposed or passed a budget for 753 days, and we have a budget crisis. So yes, we are going to lead, and we are going to try to move these polls and change these polls because that's what the country wants.

I, I just did 19 town hall meetings, David, in, in the district that I work for that went for Obama, Dukakis, Clinton and Gore. People are hungry for solutions, and I really fundamentally believe that the people are way ahead of the political class. And I think they're going to reward the leader who steps up to the plate and actually fixes these problems, no matter how much demagoguery, no matter how much distortion, no matter how much political parties try to scare seniors in the next election. I just don't think they're going to buy it this year, and they're hungry for leaders to fix this problem before it gets out of our control.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me, let me follow up on that point. The president's communication adviser, Dan Pfieffer, put this on his Twitter feed this week. He wrote, "Biggest takeaway from the Gingrich flap, ending Medicare as we know it is the new GOP litmus test." You'd expect that from Democrats, of course, and you'll hear a lot more of it. But also from the right, Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe in The Wall Street Journal from FreedomWorks, behind the tea party movement, they write this, "Medicare reform has risen to the top of the national agenda and will be the defining issue of next year's elections. Any serious GOP presidential candidate must be absolutely clear on this issue. Kicking the can down the road is no longer an option. A candidate who is timid on entitlement reforms is not qualified to be president." Is that your view?

REP. RYAN: Yes, it is my view. I, I agree with that. And I do believe--look, you cannot ever fully balance the budget and pay off the debt unless you address the drivers of our debt, our healthcare entitlements, our entitlements. And so we need a leader who's willing to talk about these things and actually do these things. We don't have that leader in the White House right now. We don't have these leaders running the Senate right now. And, yes, I agree with Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe in that op-ed, which is if you want a real leader to fix America's problems, you've got to deal with these entitlement issues before they get out of our control. And so, yeah, I agree with that sentiment.

MR. GREGORY: Then why don't you see more Republicans who want to be the country's leader, standing up and saying, "I am for the Ryan plan, full stop, including Medicare reforms." Even Michele Bachmann has said there's an asterisk next to her support on Medicare because she has concerns that has been backed up by Congressional analysis suggesting that costs for seniors would go up under your plan, what would be--you call premium support, others call vouchers, giving them money to buy insurance in the private marketplace.

REP. RYAN: Well, look, first of all, I have no problems with somebody who's offering alternative solutions to fix this problem. I have problems with people who aren't offering any solutions, who are just playing politics. You know, as far as the costs are concerned, here's what we propose. If you're under 55, when you become Medicare eligible, you get to pick among guaranteed coverage options provided by and regulated by Medicare. We don't subsidize the wealthy nearly as much as middle income, and we subsidize the poor and the sick a whole lot more than everybody else. We think that's a smart way to go. Choice in competition, giving the senior the power to deny business to inefficient providers.

The alternative to this, David, is a rationing scheme, are the 15 bureaucrats the president's going to appoint next year on his panel to ration Medicare spending. We don't think we should give the government the power to ration spending to seniors. We want to give future seniors the ability to make choices. And we want to subsidize people who are middle income and lower income and sick more than we subsidize the wealthy. And doing it this way, according to the CBO and the trustees, saves Medicare not only for the current generation with no disruptions, but for the next generation. It helps us pay off our national debt. These are the kinds of issues we've got to tackle if we're going to avert a debt crisis.

MR. GREGORY: Well, are you willing to negotiate on this?

REP. RYAN: And if you want to be a serious leader, you've got to do this.

MR. GREGORY: Are you willing to negotiate on your Medicare plan?

REP. RYAN: Say that again.

MR. GREGORY: Because it's unlikely to pass the Senate.

REP. RYAN: Of course. Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY: You will negotiate.

REP. RYAN: Of course, we would. I mean, this is the legislative process. But let me be clear, we're the only ones who put out a plan to fix this problem. We have nothing, nothing from the president or from the Senate Democrats that come anywhere close to averting a debt crisis and fixing our problem. House Republicans put out a plan that cut $6.2 trillion over the next 10 years to get this economy growing, to save our safety net, to guarantee health and retirement security, and to pay off our debt. We're offering details. We have no partners on the other side of the aisle offering anything but misleading scare tactics.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Before you go, what about the debt ceiling negotiations? Do you think they'll be a deal, or will this go down to the wire?

REP. RYAN: Well, first of all, I think there will be a deal, and it'll probably take a while. Look, we have till August. It's May right now. This is going to take time. Our position's really simple. For every dollar the president wants to raise the debt limit, we're saying let's cut more than a dollar's worth of spending. He's asked for a $2 trillion increase in the debt limit, we've laid out $6.2 trillion in spending cuts. So we can show the president plenty of ways and areas to cut more than a dollar's worth of spending and it's very important for the credit markets, for our economy to show that we're going to get this situation under control, that we're going to get the debt stabilized and get spending under control, as we deal with this debt limit. Nobody wants default to happen, but at the same time, we don't want to rubber stamp just the debt limit increase that shows we're not getting our situation under control.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Chairman Ryan, I apologize for that satellite delay. Sometimes that gets in the way. Thank you very much for dealing with that, and thank you for being on.

REP. RYAN: Thank you.


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