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Ryan leaves slight opening for GOP nomination

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that he was disappointed by the decision of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to not run for the Republican presidential nomination.

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R- Wisc., said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that he was disappointed by the decision of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to not run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Ryan left only the slimmest chance that he himself might run, or accept a draft.

“It’s not my plan” to run, he told NBC’s David Gregory. “I’m not going to get into all these hypotheticals for the future. My point is: I’m not running for running for president. You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road.”

Ryan has been driving the fiscal debate in Washington with his plan to cut federal debt and fundamentally redesign Medicare and Medicaid, the two entitlement programs that now account for more than one-fifth of federal spending.

Arguing that the plan, passed by the House last month,  imposes too heavy a burden on older Americans, Democrats see it as a huge liability for Republicans in the 2012 campaign.

Gingrich comment 'a gross mischaracterization' As he has for weeks, Ryan again gave a vigorous defense of his proposal, saying it would avert a debt crisis.

He said the criticism of his plan voiced last week on Meet the Press by GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was “deeply inaccurate” and “a gross mischaracterization of the House Republican budget plan.”

Last week, Gingrich denounced the Ryan plan as “right-wing social engineering,” but, in the face of furious criticism from Republicans, recanted that statement and eventually tried to claim he hadn’t really been referring to Ryan’s proposal.

But Democrats gleefully cited Gingrich’s “right-wing social engineering” comment as proof that Ryan’s plan was dangerous.

Referring to the furor over Gingrich, Ryan said Sunday that “we’ve got to get beyond this” and proceed to serious consideration of the nation’s fiscal problems. “We need to pre-empt and avert a debt crisis,” he said.

Why people are scared
“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,” he explained. “Look, both parties have done this to each other.”

Analysts are looking to Tuesday’s special election in upstate New York’s 26th Congressional District, a district that has been Republican for years, as a test of whether the Ryan Medicare plan is hurting Republicans.

In a fund-raising e-mail Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "This Tuesday, we can deliver a stunning setback to the Republicans’ reckless agenda by winning a special election right in their own backyard."

Medicare has been a big issue in that race, in which Democrat Kathy Hochul faces Republican Jane Corwin and Democrat-turned-Tea Party candidate Jack Davis.

Despite the political risks, Ryan said it would irresponsible for the nation’s leaders to deny that a debt crisis was inevitable and to refuse to take action to prevent it.

He added, referring to Medicare and Medicaid, “If we don’t fix these programs, people who rely on these benefits are going to get cut first, are going to be hurt the worst under a debt crisis.”

What Ryan's plan would do
Under Ryan’s proposal, eligibility for the existing Medicare program would not change for people who are age 55 or older by the end of 2011.

People who turn 65 in 2022 or later years would get payments from the government to help them purchase private insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office, in its assessment of Ryan’s plan, said it “would significantly reduce mandatory outlays for health care” and result in “much lower deficits and debt in the long run.”

But the CBO also found that under Ryan’s redesigned Medicare, “most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system.” CBO said by 2030 those on Medicare would pay more than twice as high a share of the cost of their medical care than beneficiaries in the current system do.

The CBO also warned that without some steps to change Medicare and cut the growth rate of federal health care spending, the nation faces "rapidly growing budget deficits and mounting federal debt." 

The CBO further cautioned that a growing federal debt “would increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates.”