Meet the Press   |  January 27, 2013

Paul Ryan talks economics, immigration

House Budget Chairman and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan discusses his views on economic solutions and immigration reform in an exclusive interview on Meet the Press with David Gregory.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with david gregory .

>>> good sunday morning. as the president begins his second term, will the white house and republican leaders figure out how to balance the budget , or will they lurch from showdown from showdown? and how will the economy respond to what is or is not accomplished here in washington ? my exclusive guest this morning will have something to say about all of this. house budget chairman and the republican party 's 2012 vice presidential nominee paul ryan here for his first live interview since the election. chairman, welcome back to meat meet.

>> great to be back with you.

>> let's talk about this top priority of the budget battle. it will really mark the beginning of the president's second term. the debt ceiling has been raised, at least temporarily, but there are still big decisions to be made. you specifically said in the last few days that your priority is to make a big down payment on the debt. a debt crisis that you see in this country.

>> that's right.

>> what do you specifically require? what's the priority? what has the president got to do in your point of view?

>> i'll just explain what the speaker said when we passed that bill. our goal is to get cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balancing the budget in a decade. we think the senate ought to offer a budget . they haven't passed a budget in four years, even though we have a law that says we need a budget every year. we haven't seen any solutions offered by the president on how to get the budget balanced, pay down the debt, and no budget in four years. we need to figure out how to grow the economy, how to get opportunity. and if we have a debt crisis like they had in europe, everybody gets hurt. that's what we want to avoid.

>> last week, senator schumer said, we'll do a budget .

>> great. finally. it's been four years.

>> but this is what he said has to be in it.

>> you're going to need more revenue as well as more cuts to get the deficit down. i've talked to leader reid. budget claire murray. we're going to do a budget this year, and it's going to have revenues in it. and our republican colleagues better get used to that.

>> so this is still a fight between how much spending cuts and how much taxes. the president got his --

>> well, simpson 3w0-bowles said let's get rid of the high tax rates . the president doesn't want that. you had $1 trillion in tax increases with obama care. new tax increases at the beginning of this month. and now they are calling for even more tax increases, and they are not calling to cut spending. they are calling for spending increases. so basically what they're saying is, they want americans to pay more so washington can spend more. that's not going to help the economy, and that is not going to close the gap and balance the budget . the reason we want to balance the budget is not to make the numbers add up. we think that's necessary for growth and opportunity. we think it's necessary to make sure that our kids don't get this debt that they won't be able to handle if we keep going down the path we are on.

>> but there are certainly those in the white house who would take issue with what you said or might even say to use your own criticism that's a straw man argume argument. they were prepared to cut additional spending to be part of a bigger agreement that republicans weren't able to agree to. there is more room for spending cuts. it's a matter of how you do it.

>> the president was insisting on more stimulus spending during the fiscal cliff negotiations. he didn't get that. they haven't put out a plan. the reason we wanted the debt limit extended was to showcase our budget . we will put a budget up that says here is our plan for economic growth and balancing the budget , entitlement reform which is necessary to save medicare from bankruptcy and get this debt under control. the president hasn't offered any of those kinds of plans in public. they tried to do back room deals, but those seem to fall apart. we want to debate it in public to contrast these visions.

>> i want to keep up with some terms you're using here. you say the president wants to raise tax rates . a lot of the democrats i talked to and even the white house said they are willing to do tax reform where there could be additional revenue. are you opposed to any additional revenue that could come from tax reform ?

>> we offered that back in the fiscal cliff negotiations. the president got his additional revenues. that's behind us. those higher revenues occurred, and now we need to focus on getting spending down.

>> here is the leverage question. senator schumer said we didn't just get our revenues. we got some. there has to be more that are part of it. the president will say that. so as you are --

>> are we for more revenue? no, we are not.

>> even if it's from tax reform ?

>> if you keep raising revenues, you're not going to get different tax reform . i know you didn't want a chart, but i'm kind of a chart guy. this dream line shows you the historic taxes. the red line is tax increases. the red line , where spending is going. spending is the problem. revenues aren't the problem. if you keep chasing higher spending with higher revenues as they're calling for, you're going to hurt economic growth . you'll never catch up. you'll shut down the economy and you won't get the budget down.

>> when you were campaigning in virginia, a state you wanted to carry but didn't, you said, look, these sequestration cuts, these automatic spending cuts that are put in place because republicans and democrats can't agree, so you have to have this sword that comes down, you said we're not going to let those happen. those will not happen, those automatic spending cuts. well, now we have a new deadline coming up in a couple of months that says there's going to be more automatic spending cuts, the same ones that were in place before.

>> that's right.

>> are you going to let those happen?

>> if mitt romney and i won the election, they would not have happened because we would have gone and worked with democrats and republicans in congress to put the budget on a path to balance and saved defense. i think the sequester is going to happen because that $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, we can't lose those spending cuts. and don't for get one other thing. i wrote legislation and passed it in the house twice to replace those sequesters with cuts in other areas of government. we have shown how to protect defense spending by cutting spending in other areas. in our budget last year, we did take money out of defense. just not nearly as much as the president seems to want to. but we think the sequesters will happen because the democrats have opposed our efforts to replace those cuts with others and offered no alternatives.

>> is this worth shutting the government down over?

>> no one is talking about shutting the government down.

>> well, it's a piece of the leverage that conservatives have. you didn't want to fight over the debt ceiling because you thought you can't do that, you have to pay the government's bills. do you think this fight over priority is worth shutting the government down?

>> we're not interested in shutting the government down. what happens on march 1 is spending goes down automatically. march 27 is when the moment you're talking about, the continuing resolution expires. we are more than happy to keep spending at those levels going on into the future while we debate how to balance the budget , grow the economy, create economic opportunity. that's the kind of debate the country deserves. by the way, if we keep going down this path, we will have a debt crisis. it's not an if question. it's a when question. this isn't a republican or democrat thing. it's a math thing. we have to get serious with this problem if we want to save people from the problems that result from a debt crisis.

>> let me challenge you from a critic further on the left. a lot of the centrist economists may disagree with you in some areas but agree about the impending debt crisis. some on the left disagree, calls you a deficit scold and worse than that. but the point is you're being alarmist about the deficit and its relationship to how the economy performs and grows. here's what he wrote in his column on friday. it was in fact a good thing that the deficit was allowed to rise as the economy slumped. with private spending plunging as the housing bubble popped, the willingness of the government to keep spending was one of the main reasons we didn't experience a full replay of the great depression. and the balance now between austerity, which he believes you call for, and appropriate investment on the part of the government is still a great tension.

>> we can debate that. it's clear that doesn't work. we're not preaching austerity. we are preaching growth and opportunity. what we are saying is if you get our fiscal ship fixed, you preempt austerity. here's what a debt crisis is. it's what they have in europe, which is austerity. you cut the safety net immediately. cut retirement benefits for people already retired. slow down the economy, and young people don't have job. that's the austerity that comes with a debt crisis. if you keep stacking up trillion dollar deficits, it's bringing us to that moment. our goal is to prevent and preempt austerity to get back to growth.

>> the question i have is who's really with? you a lot of the business community , natural allies, have kind of come around to the president's way of thinking saying, look, you know, get more revenues if you want them. raise tax rates if you need them. just get something done. silicon valley , a lot of the innovators in the country, big job creators, big idea people, not natural allies of your way of thinking. so that's the question. who's really with you?

>> i don't know if i agree with that. they believe we should have tax reform . we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. we are taxing our small businesses at rates higher than corporations. when we tax our job creators more than our foreign competitors tax theirs, they win. we lose.

>> he's not really for that.

>> he says so, but he has yet to put out a vision or agreement to make good on these promises. we hear the rhetoric but never see the results. and more importantly, businesses know we have to close this deficit. businesses know we can't keep spending money we just don't have. businesses budget . washington hasn't had a budget for four years. the president and his party have been in charge of washington during this time. they have not budgeted for four years. and businesses know that you can't operate an enterprise, let alone the federal government , without budgeting.

>> let me have you respond to this other argument about entitlements, about the role of government. and the president really launched it as part of his inaugural address when he said this.

>> we recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. the commitments we make to each other through medicare and medicaid and social security , these things do not sap our nation. they strengthen us. they do not make us a nation of takers. they free us to take the risk that make this country great.

>> now that line of attack, didn't mention you by name, but certainly mentions you in substance, went back to a number of comments that you made about the makers versus takers. here's one back in september of 2011 .

>> right now, according to the tax foundation , between 60% and 70% of americans get more benefits from the federal government than they pay to the government. so we have a society of makers versus takers.

>> if you keep the context going, my point in making that statistic is it's not as these statistics lead you to believe. we don't want a dependency culture. we want a safety net to get people on their feet. americans want the american dream . the point i make citing that statistic is it's not as it seems. people want the american dream . they want lives of opportunity. they want to reach their potential. and so our concern in this country is with the idea that more and more able-bodied people are becoming dependent upon the government than upon themselves for their livelihoods. we want to make sure we don't continue that trend. and when you take a look at those statistics, it's not as bad as those statistics say. people want lives of upper mobility. people want to chart their own course. they want to reach their potential. and our policies should be geared toward doing that. so no one is suggesting that medicare and social security makes you a taker. these are people like my mom, who worked hard, paid her taxes, and now is collecting the benefit that she paid for. no one is suggesting that people like my mom is a taker.

>> but you're citing figures that of course include entitlement reforms like social security .

>> when these statistics get cited, it leads you to think that america is gone, that we're becoming too much of a dependent culture. my point has always been, that's not the whole picture.

>> here is the criticism against you. and it was written about in the new york magazine blog this week, which goes to whether you want to expand the base of the party. here's what he writes. obama is arguing that misfortune can strike americans in all forms. a sdabt, a storm, illness, or merely outliving our savings. ryan 's budget imposes savage cuts to food stamps , children's health insurance , and other mitigations of suffering for the least fortunate. and ryan also voted against relief for victims of hurricane sandy. by ryan 's definition, if the government is rebuilding your destroyed home, you're a taker too.

>> look, this is a straw man argument . the president said earlier that we had suspicions about medicare and taking care of the elderly and feeding poor children. when he sets up these straw men, to affix views to add ver sears that they don't have, to win the argument by default, it's not an honest debate. we want to have a safety net . a safety net that's there for the vulnerable, poor, for people who cannot help themselves. but we don't want to have a culture in this country that encouraging more dependency that saps and drains people of their ability to make the most of their lives.

>> which part of the culture today is doing that? is part of this culture that you even benefited from after your father died.

>> absolutely.

>> so which part of the safety net culture is sapping america 's opportunity right now?

>> this is the point we keep making with benefits like food stamps , for example. the benefits that he talks about, the changes we made, all we're saying is you actually have to be eligible for the program to receive it. we need to target it so that people that actually need them. if our reforms on food stamps went through, they would have grown by 260% over the last decade instead of 270%. when you call such reforms savage, that i think does a disservice to the quality of the debate we need to have. what we're trying to achieve is a system where you have that safety net to help people who cannot help themselves, but you have an opportunity of society, education reform , economic growth , so that people can get on their feet and make the most of their lives and reach their potential. and that's what we're worried about losing in this country.

>> one more on the budget . then a couple of other things. do you think there's a failure to get to know each other in washington , really get to know each other? you haven't had much contact with the president over the last couple of years. somebody pointed out to me something i thought was smart, which was solving the problem on the budget is not complicated. winning politically and solving the problem, that's hard. and that's what both sides seem to be locked into trying to do.

>> well, i don't think that the president thinks we actually have a fiscal crisis. he's been reportedly saying to our leaders that we don't have a spending problem. we have a health care problem. that leads me to conclude he just thinks we ought to have more government-run health care and rationing. i don't think that's going to work. so there are a lot of democrats that are good friends of mine who agree with us on how to do medicare reform. on the need to do entitlement reform, tax reform with lower rates for faster economic growth . the problem is the leaders of that party don't seem to want to come to agreement with this. so my concern is the president may be more focused on political ends, you know, in 2014 , versus actually moving to the middle. when you saw his speech, say, at the inauguration, it leads us to conclude that he's not looking to moderate. he's not looking to move to the middle. he is looking to go further to the left, and he wants to fight us every step of the way politically. and i don't think that's good for anybody in this country.

>> it's reminiscent, isn't it, of a lot of republican leaders after his first inauguration getting together and trying to make him a one-term president?

>> no. i see it as we have big problems we need to fix. we want to be a part of that solution. whether people like it or not or intend it or not, we more or less had the status quo election. we have a divided government . we have to make it work. when we see our country living far beyond its means, when we see our nation destroying our children's future by saddling them with a debt they can't handle, we have to do something about that. when we see families struggling in this economy, we have to do things to grow this economy. and the things that are coming out of washington right now don't do that. and that's why we're offering solutions. that's why we were showing with our budget here's how to grow the economy. here's how you save your kids from a debt-laden future. here's how you save medicare . this is the kind of debate, the honest debate, that we need to have versus impugning people's motives.

>> what did you learn from your run for the vice presidency and being mitt romney 's running mate? what did you take away as a republican as you look to the future?

>> it was a great experience. i feel that i benefited tremendously from that. my family got to see a lot of the country. we got to see countless people who just feel so passionate about their country. the other thing i learn was mitt romney would have been one heck of a great president. he is a very good man. the big regret i have is we didn't win the election and weren't able to put the reforms we think are right for the country in place. and now we're going to have to use this tool of divided government to try and make it work.

>> what do you think the party should learn from the loss?

>> obviously, we have to expand our appeal. we have to expand our appeal to more people and show how we'll take the country's founding principles and apply them to the problem was the day, solutions to fix our problems. we have to show our ideas are better at fighting poverty, better at solving health care , how our ideas are better at solving problems that people experience in their daily lives. and that's a challenge we have to rise to. and i think we're up for it.

>> on a couple of issues in specific areas, immigration is one, what's it going to take to get conservatives to rally around an idea that illegal immigrants who are here now can stay without having to first leave, which is something you propose, and get a pathway to citizenship? do you think that conservatives can rally around that idea and ultimately get reform passed?

>> yeah. i think there's a balance between respecting the rule of law and adhering to the reality of the day. and i think marco rubio probably touched on it. i support and agree with the principles he laid out as far as earned legalization. making sure people don't cut in line but fixing the problem. we did reform in '86 and again in '96. it's a system that's broken that needs fixing. and many of us who have been involved in this issue over the years. immigration is a good thing. that's what america is. it's a melting pot . we think this is good. we need to make sure it works. i think there are republicans and democrats , many of us are talking to each other, that can come together with a good solution to make sure that this problem is fixed. once and for all. and i think those rubio principles do a really good job of adhering to the founding principles, respecting the rule of law, and respecting those who came here for a better life .

>> and do you see that getting done this year?

>> i do. that's one of the areas where i feel that i think the president has a big speech coming up. the question that many of us are asking, republicans and democrats , is he looking to play politics or does he want to solve the problem? we don't know the answer to that yet. but i do know there are a lot of democrats in congress who once and for all want to fix this mess, broken immigration system, and many of us agree with that. hopefully we can actually get this done.

>> on gun control legislation, are there any new regulations that you could support?

>> well, i think the question of whether or not a criminal is getting a gun is a question we need to look at. that's what the background check issue is all about. and i think we need to look into making sure there aren't big loopholes where a person can illegally purchase a firearm. but i elalso think we need to look beyond recycling failed policies of the past. you and i are the same age, same age kids, same number of kids. it's our worst nightmare something like this happening. let's go beyond the debate and go deeper. what's our policy on mental illness ? what's going on in our culture that produces this kind of thing? we need to have that kind of discussion and debate, and i hope we don't just skip past that and bring out political ideas that recycle failed policies of the past.

>> you seem to see a lot of division here. you think the president in some ways is trying to finish off the republican party . so i don't hear you as saying anything about more comprehensive reforms in the way you think is necessary and you blame the president for that and his mindset.

>> i decided to not comment between the election and the inauguration because i wanted to see what kind of president we were looking at here, what kind of path and trajectory he was putting his administration on. and all of the statements and all of the comments lead me to believe that he's thinking more of a political conquest than political compromise. and that's my concern. and this is why we're going to have to have a big debate this spring on how to balance the budget . about how to save us from a debt crisis. about how to grow the economy. and i think there are issues, like immigration reform , where there are democrats and republicans who want to come together to fix the problem. the question is will the president frustrate that or facilitate that. and i don't know the answer to that question.

>> it was interesting on the day of the inauguration, brian williams and others and i were talking, and we noticed some video during the luncheon, and one of the things that caught our eye was a great moment here. you have your back to us. but there you are with secretary clinton and president clinton . and that's just one of those moments where you say, gosh, what were they talking about? any advice there?

>> talking about personal health. we both lost our dads when we were young, and we were talking. i got concussions when i was young, and hillary was telling me about hers. we were just kind of chumming it up. look, if we had a clinton presidency, if we had erskine bowles , i think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now. that's not the kind of presidency we're dealing with right now.

>> and you don't blame conservatives, particularly in the house, for thwarting that effort?

>> both parties -- forget about just the recent past. both parties got us in the mess we are in, this fiscal crisis. republicans and democrats . and it will take both parties to solve this problem. that's the kind of leadership we need today.

>> how do you think about 2016 and a presidential run?

>> i don't.

>> you're not thinking about it now?

>> i think it's just premature. i've got an important job to do. i represent wisconsin. i'm chairman of the budget committee at the time we have a fiscal crisis. i think i can do my job by focusing on that right now rather than focusing on distant things.

>> but you'll take a serious look at it?

>> i'll decide later about that. right now i'm focused on this.

>> chairman, thank you very much as always. appreciate it.

>> thank you.