U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican, defended his budget plan, warned of the perils of a debt crisis and said government needs to listen to the people during a speech to thousands of conservative activists Friday.
"The crucial question isn't how we balance the budget -- it's why," Ryan told the Conservative Political Action Conference. "The budget is a means to an end. We're not balancing the budget as an accounting exercise. We're not just trying to make the numbers add up. We are trying to improve people's lives."
Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, revealed his latest budget plan Tuesday, calling for $4.6 trillion in cuts over 10 years, including rolling back President Barack Obama's health care law. Ryan said his plan would bring the budget into balance without raising taxes.
On Wednesday, Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) issued a budget blueprint that would reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion, half from spending cuts and half from revenue increases. Murray's plan does not balance the budget but reduces deficits.
"You know, this has been a really big week," Ryan said. "We got white smoke from the Vatican -- and a budget from the Senate. "
He said when you read the Senate budget, "you find that the Vatican is not the only place blowing smoke this week."
"They call their budget a balanced approach. The thing is, they never balance the budget, ever. In fact, they call for another trillion-dollar plus tax hike on top of even more spending," Ryan said.
Ryan, the Republican Party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, warned that "a debt crisis would be more than an economic event. It would be a moral failure."
"You see, by cheapening our currency, government would cheat us of our just rewards," Ryan said. "Even now, we're hurting working families. By living beyond our means, the government is sending a message. It's saying, 'If you plan ahead -- if you make sacrifices for your kids, if you save, you're a sucker.' It is brazenly stealing from our children and from young adults. And it has to stop."
Ryan told the audience that Americans "belong to thousands of communities," that government should not displace but should support.
"It isn't to blunt their differences or to flatten their character -- to mash them together into some dull conformity. It's to secure our individual rights and to protect that diversity," he said.
Ryan said his budget "makes room for these communities to grow, so the people in them have room to thrive. We can't just talk about these communities. We have to talk with them. We have to engage them because leaders don't just speak up. They listen too. And if we listen more closely to the people, we will find that the answers to our problems lie a whole lot closer to home, a whole lot closer than just Washington, D.C."
Ryan spoke of recently meeting Leroy Maclin, a Milwaukee resident who was a felon at 14. In January, Maclin pleaded guilty to a 2012 charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His sentencing is in May. Maclin is now employed at Milwaukee Working, a faith-based nonprofit on the north side.
"No government agency built this company," Ryan said. "No law forced these people to help each other. They came together on their own. They saw a need. And they met that need."
Ryan said Maclin "has turned his life around. He's providing for his sons. And he's an example for us all. You see, work gives people more than a paycheck. It gives them a sense of purpose -- a sense of pride. It makes them a part of their community. It gives them the dignity that we all deserve. And we can never forget this essential fact."
"When we try to help struggling families, we should listen to people like Leroy -- because they remind us that every life has the potential for redemption," Ryan said. "Their example must inform our approach. And government must work with them, not against them."
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