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updated 4/6/2011 10:18:46 AM ET 2011-04-06T14:18:46

Paul Ryan, just 41 but already a seventh-term congressman, is the man making the House Republicans' sales pitch for truly big budget cuts. And he's doing it by talking about maturity.

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Americans, he says, "are ready to be talked to like adults, not children."

If the government is to bring increasingly dangerous deficits under control, he insists, there have to be big changes in all-but-untouchable programs including aid for the elderly and the poor.

"Hopefully," he says, "that kind of adult conversation can occur."

Presidents and lawmakers have for years been talking about overhauling entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, with little to show.

What's new this year is that Ryan is making the pitch from the helm of a committee with a key voice in the long-term debate over how to bring the nation's racing deficit under control, at a time when the aging, financially strapped nation is paying attention.

Story: In GOP's new plan, big health cost shift to elderly

The messenger is a youthful father of three with an enthusiasm for fitness who is as likely to have Led Zeppelin as Beethoven playing through the ear buds he often wears around Capitol Hill. He leads sessions of a workout routine called P90X for a few colleagues as many as five times a week. He's an avid bow hunter not averse to emailing from the brush as he waits for deer.

Ryan's also known for at least one salty Christmas gift exchange: He gave Rep. James Sensenbrenner, also of Wisconsin, nose clippers in a box from Tiffany's after Sensenbrenner gifted Ryan a reindeer that dispensed candy from the back end.

Ryan told The Washington Post that he's not a "root canal" Republican focused on making America suffer for a broader goal.

But to a nation just getting to know him, Ryan is a wonky "budgeteer" armed with graphs and PowerPoint presentations to help illustrate his "Roadmap for America's Future" in 2008 and, on Tuesday, his "Path to Prosperity," both of which prescribe painful solutions for the nation's fiscal ills.

Video: Budget battle crosses into Medicare (on this page)

'Path to Prosperity'
People are listening, some in high places.

Last year at the GOP retreat in Baltimore, Obama referenced Ryan's alternative budget proposal with a shout-out any author would envy.

"I've read it. I can tell you what's in it," Obama said. The plan, the president added, was "a serious proposal," and Ryan "a sincere guy."

This year, Ryan made his pitch as the GOP's responder to Obama's State of the Union address. And on Tuesday, he delivered the Budget Committee's "Path to Prosperity," a proposal for the 2012 budget that even some Republicans worry could do the party more harm than good in next year's midterm and presidential elections.

"We must cut spending and tighten our belt, but House Republicans have chosen to do so on the backs of America's seniors, not the big oil companies making record profits and getting tens of billions in taxpayer subsidies," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted in an email later in the day.

Video: Ryan says GOP cuts 'sensible, secure' (on this page)

Ryan says he and the other Republicans, especially the history-making freshman class, can do other things with their lives should the proposals cut short their political careers. For now, he says, they're trying to solve what everyone agrees is a looming disaster for the nation's fiscal future.

"If that means we're giving our political adversaries a political weapon to use against us, which by the way they will have to distort, demagogue and lie to use it," Ryan said, "shame on them."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Budget battle crosses into Medicare

  1. Closed captioning of: Budget battle crosses into Medicare

    >> reporter: i'm kelly o'donnell on capitol hill , where the house republicans' budget man called for dramatic cuts and changes.

    >> we put the nation on the path to actually pay off our national debt .

    >> reporter: 41-year-old wisconsin congressman paul ryan is going big. compared to the white house budget laid out in february, the republican plan over the next decade would cut government spending by $6 trillion, reduce the federal deficit by $4.4 trillion compared to the president's budget, according to the congressional budget office . both parties and the president's own bipartisan debt commission say the federal debt is a national emergency .

    >> this is the most predictable economic crisis in our history. and what are we doing, playing politics?

    >> reporter: the biggest flash-point is altering medicare , where health care costs have soared.

    >> we propose that we support people more if they're low income, more as they get sick, and wealthy seniors don't get as much support.

    >> reporter: for anyone 55 and older, no change. but when younger workers reach retirement, they would choose private health insurance like federal workers and get a government subsidy to help pay for it. and medicaid for the poor would be controlled by states. democrats call the republican plan too severe, saying it would hurt the most vulnerable.

    >> no longer would medicare be a guarantee of health insurance coverage. instead, medicare would become little more than a discount card. this plan would literally be a death trap for some seniors.

    >> reporter: on taxes republicans propose lowering the top tax rates for individuals and corporations to 25%. so this boils down to republicans got a big spotlight today to argue their case. but many of the specific ideas face real resistance politically. still, republicans say this was a starting point. brian?

    >> kelly o'donnell on the hill. and chuck todd at the white house before that starting us off tonight. thanks to you both. one more note on politics. florida democratic congresswoman debra wasserman schultz , who we saw right toward the end of kelly 's reporting there, was named the new head of the democratic national committee today. and she will keep her day job in congress at the same time.

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