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Paul Ryan's Second Act

The Wisconsin congressman looks to 2012 and beyond.

4:03 PM, Nov 1, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Even Mitt Romney, who has attacked Rick Perry for his rough rhetoric about Social Security? “I spent an hour with Romney on Thursday,” Ryan says. The two talked about entitlements on Capitol Hill. “I think he gets the situation, and I think he’s serious about fixing it if elected. I think Perry’s the same way. I know Herman’s the same way.”

But what about Romneycare? Ryan has said Romneycare is "not that dissimilar to Obamacare." Is Ryan "intellectually dishonest," as New Jersey governor Chris Christie said of those who claim the two programs are similar?  

“Well, I guess from a federalism standpoint, I understand that point,” Ryan says with a laugh. He doesn't back off of his judgment about Romneycare, but says the issue is irrelevant. “I don’t think this question matters that much anymore because Romney’s been very clear that he’s against Obamacare and he’s going to repeal it. So I for a second don’t worry about whether he’s going to shy away from repealing the president’s health care law."

Ryan praises the rest of the field, commending Perry for proposing a pro-growth flat-tax and crediting Herman Cain for encouraging his rivals to offer bold plans. Ryan says he's even on good terms with Newt Gingrich, who called Ryan's reform "right-wing social engineering" on Meet the Press last spring. "With allies like that, who needs the left?" Ryan said the day after Gingrich's appearance.

"There was never a hatchet to bury really. He said what he said. And what happened happened," Ryan now says of Gingrich. "I ran into him the other day at the airport. We’re fine. I talked to him. He emails me fairly often.”

Ryan admits he's reluctant to criticize any of the Repubilcan candidates. In order to change the policies coming out of Washington, there needs to be a change of personnel in the White House. “I’m trying very hard not to sandbag or criticize these guys and their plans," Ryan says. "Everybody tries to get me to be the referee of people’s plans. They’re all good people, good candidates. They’re all huge improvements over Obama.” Ryan won't be endorsing a candidate during the primary because he's been tapped by the RNC to fundraise for the eventual nominee.

In addition to cash, Ryan is more than willing to lend the nominee ideas and rhetoric free of charge. Ryan's speech last Thursday at the Heritage Foundation, for example, was a rousing free-market populist attack on "crony capitalism" and the "corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless." 

Ryan drew the ire of the left and inspired the right. "If more Republicans thought—and spoke—like this, the party would flourish," Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal

At his townhall meetings, Ryan continues to put on a clinic for fellow Republicans. "I don't care about rich people because they're already rich," he says in Janesville. "Where we need to be focusing our energies and attention is not tearing down someone who's been successful. It is on trying to help people become successful who have never been there."

"I would like to see nothing more than the decentralization of the concentration of wealth in America," Ryan continues.

"Why don't you say that on TV?" the slightly hostile questioner replies.

Ryan insists he did just last week and urges his constituent to read his entire speech. "Here's my point: the way to do that is extend equal opportunity and free enterprise, not deny those things." 

Ryan continues to handle pointed criticism of his Medicare reform deftly. At Kenosha, a 53-year-old man stands and tells Ryan he has end-stage renal failure and will die if Ryan's Medicare reform passes.

"You may as well put a gun to my head," he says.

"I've got good news for you," Ryan says. "What you said is not correct, and I mean that in a sincere, kind way."

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