Romney Taps Conservative Darling Rep. Paul Ryan as Running Mate

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Mitt Romney has made his pick for his running mate, choosing the youthful, fiscally dominant Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin—considered by many to be a longshot choice for the cautious Romney.

Ryan, 42, is more than two decades younger than the 63-year-old Romney and, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, is a star among the House’s fiscally conservative Tea Party members. The announcement was made this morning in Norfolk, Virginia,

“I did not make a mistake with this guy,” Romney said from the podium.

“I am deeply excited and honored to join you as your running mate,” Ryan said when he got to the podium. Ryan said Republicans would eliminate the country’s “debt, doubt and despair.”

“Regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem, and Mitt Romney is the solution,” said Ryan, who was first elected to Congress at age 28 and has never really held a job in the private sector.

It is a somewhat surprising pick that sets up a stark ideological battle in November with President Obama, who for the last several years has used Ryan and his extremely conservative budget ideas as his official Republican foil. In the president’s mind, Ryan’s approach to government spending—basically to get rid of it—is the primary example of everything that’s dangerous about the Republican Party.

“This election is about values, and today Romney doubled down on his commitment to take our country back to the failed policies of the past,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said in an email. “Congressman Paul Ryan is best known as the author of a budget so radical The New York Times called it ‘the most extreme budget plan passed by a House of Congress in modern times.’ With Mitt Romney’s support, Ryan would end Medicare as we know it and slash the investments we need to keep our economy growing—all while cutting taxes for those at the very top.”

Some observers predicted Romney might be drawn to the thoughtful, wonkish Ryan—some critics said he and Tim Pawlenty were the only politicians in the country colorless enough to make Romney look charismatic in comparison.

Ryan has been pushing for the last several years, particularly since the Republicans took over the House in the 2010 midterm elections, to move his fiscal vision into the mainstream of the Republican Party. He has done this largely by pushing other Republicans to take a position on his ideas—and also by being one of the few Republicans who has been willing to actually propose policies, rather than just criticizing Obama’s.

Among Ryan’s ideas are to turn Medicare into a program that sends a government check to seniors that they use to buy their own private health insurance, and to substantially cut spending for Medicaid, food stamps and student loans—cutting $5.3 trillion over a decade.

In response to many commentators calling Ryan’s fiscal conservatism “courageous,” the president took Ryan’s budget on in April 2011 during a speech at George Washington University.

“I believe it paints a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.”

That theme will undoubtedly be repeated over and over during the next three months.

A profile of Ryan in The New Yorker last week said he was personally responsible for scuttling at least three budget deals between Democrats and Republicans, who Ryan had pushed to the point where any Republican plan having to do with government spending needed to have his approval to move forward. In the profile, Ryan pointed out what he believed Romney should do during this campaign.

“I want a full-throated defense for an alternative agenda that fixes the country’s problems. I want to show the country that we have a solution to get us out of the ditch we’re in, and to be proud about it.”

When the writer, Ryan Lizza, asked Ryan about the possibility that his agenda might damage Romney, Ryan said, “I think life is short. You’d better take advantage of it while you have it.”

But the critics have already started lining up to take their shots.

“Ryan is best known for the extreme budget that bears his name—one that would end Medicare as we know it while giving huge tax breaks to billionaires and corporations,” said a fundraising appeal from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “A Romney-Ryan ticket is a frightening prospect for the middle class and anyone who might one day need Medicare or Social Security.”

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