Paul Ryan talks Charlie Sheen, government shutdown and the 2012 presidential field

Chris Moody Contributor
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Don’t expect Congress to reach a deal to fund the government anytime this month, Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan suggested Thursday.

Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by National Journal, the Wisconsin Republican said Congress will probably be forced to pass more short-term spending extensions before House Republicans and Senate Democrats — who have voiced drastically different visions for how much the government should spend — ever find a compromise.

“Two weeks may not do it,” Ryan said, referring to the short-term continuing resolution President Obama signed Wednesday that cut about $4 billion from the budget. “We may need another four.”

Since Congress failed to pass a budget last year, the government has been running on short-term stopgap measures. Now that Republicans hold the House, they’re demanding spending cuts every time Congress extends funding, elevating the risk of a government shutdown. Ryan said that reducing spending was more important than worrying about shutting down the government for a short time.

“We’re not interested in shutting the government down, that’s not a good idea,” he said. “But more importantly we cannot accept these high elevated spending levels.”

It still remains unclear how far House Republicans will stray from the $61 billion they voted to cut from the budget last month when Senate Democrats send the bill back with fewer cuts. Within the Republican plan, for instance, is a measure that would defund the Democrats’ health-care law, and Ryan seemed less than confident the proposal would survive the negotiating process.

“Something tells me [Obama] wouldn’t sign it,” Ryan said.

For Ryan, the fight over short-term spending is just a palate cleanser compared to the coming battle over next year’s budget, which he said will include changes to the nation’s entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Ryan said there will “absolutely” be reforms to those programs in the Republican budget, and slammed Obama’s proposal for leaving them out, calling the White House’s strategy “punt and duck.”

When it comes to the budget debate, Ryan is consumed by it. He even admitted that the recent warning from the Congressional Budget Office that the national debt would crash the economy by 2037, “literally keeps me up at night.”

“I know that’s a little weird — the CBO should not keep people up at night — it’s better than what keeps Charlie Sheen up at night,” Ryan said.

As for his thoughts on the 2012 presidential field, Ryan wouldn’t single out a favorite, and tread carefully when asked whether Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan could pose some problems for the former governor.

“I just don’t think that kind of health-care architecture works. He had a Democrat legislature. He did what he could given the circumstances at the moment,” Ryan said. “I’ll leave it up to to the people in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina to  determine whether that flies or not.”

Ryan has said repeatedly he is personally ruling out a run.

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