WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan for the Republican presidential ticket brings clarity to the stark election-year choice for voters — the competing Democratic and GOP visions about the size and role of the federal government in Americans' lives.
Ryan is synonymous with his revolutionary budget that slashes spending for safety-net programs for the poor, remakes Medicare and cuts personal and corporate taxes while pushing the deficit down to a manageable level. It turns the tea party dream of a scaled-back, less involved government into hard-core reality.
Republicans and Democrats offered reaction to Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate.
"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."
— Jim Messina, campaign manager for President Barack Obama
"My friend and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan will serve America admirably as the next vice president of the United States. Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan have the knowledge, expertise and vision we need to get America working again and get our fiscal house in order. This is a great day for Wisconsin and for America."
—Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus
"This is a strong pick. Gov. Romney is serious about confronting the long-term challenges facing America, and Paul Ryan will help him solve the difficult issues that must be addressed for future generations."
—Former President George W. Bush
"Congressman Ryan has been called a serious person, but he, like Mitt Romney has seriously flawed ideas for our economy that have only failed us in the past. Congressman Ryan laid the groundwork in Congress for Mitt Romney's budget-busting scheme that gives an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires while punishing middle-class families with tax hikes of up to $2,000 a year. A Romney-Ryan ticket is sure to take us back and repeat the same catastrophic mistakes that got us into the mess we found ourselves in in the first place."
—Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
"By picking Representative Paul Ryan, Gov. Romney has doubled down on his commitment to gut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. Romney's choice demonstrates that catering to the tea party and the far-right is more important to him that standing up for the middle class."
—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"Mitt Romney has made a great choice in Paul Ryan. He is an accomplished public servant and a leading voice on the most pressing issues facing our country. Paul is one of my best friends in Congress and someone I have worked closely with. I look forward to working closely with a Romney-Ryan administration to restore fiscal sanity and enact pro-growth policies to create jobs."
—Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, one of several prominent Republicans under consideration by Romney as his running mate
"Congressman Ryan is a respected leader and a bold thinker regarding the changes needed to restore America. His selection will also help Gov. Romney win the key swing state of Wisconsin. I am excited about a Romney-Ryan ticket and look forward to doing all I can to help them win this election."
—Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, also under consideration by Romney to be his vice-presidential nominee
''Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has made great decisions, and choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate is a truly inspired choice ... Paul Ryan is a courageous reformer who understands our nation's challenges, has proposed bold policy solutions to solve them, and has shown the courage to stand up to President Obama and other Washington politicians trying to tear him down."
—Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
"There is no question that former Gov. Romney now owns the Republican, Ryan budget that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare and the middle class. Congressman Paul Ryan led House Republicans in voting to end the Medicare guarantee, which increases costs on seniors and weakens America's great middle class in order to give tax breaks to millionaires, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas."
—Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California
"America is more than just a place ... it's an idea. It's the only country founded on an idea," Ryan said Saturday in Virginia as Romney introduced his vice presidential choice. "Our rights come from nature and God, not government. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes."
With Romney's embrace of Ryan, it is now the Romney-Ryan budget and blueprint for the future.
President Barack Obama, who repeatedly talks up the November election as a profound choice for the country, has rejected the Ryan approach as "thinly veiled social Darwinism." The Democrat and former community organizer sees government as a place with enough resources to help the less fortunate.
The Ryan budget, Obama said in April, "is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it; a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top but grows outward from the heart of the middle class."
Roughly three months before the election, Romney's choice clearly defines the fault lines and establishes the narrative for the election, one that Republicans and Democrats, liberals and tea partyers will echo in congressional and gubernatorial races. The outcome in November will have far-reaching implications for looming fiscal crises in the year's final days.
On the grassroots level, the selection of the 42-year-old Ryan, one of the House's intellectual conservatives and Budget Committee chairman, energizes a GOP base wary of the Massachusetts governor and architect of the state's health insurance program dubbed Romneycare.
Conservatives, from The Wall Street Journal editorial page to the rank and file, had been clamoring in recent days for Ryan. The timing of the announcement came as polls showed Obama with a narrow advantage and the number of undecided voters diminishing, underscoring the need for Romney to act fast.
"It's absolutely fantastic," Sal Russo, a longtime Republican operative and founder of the Tea Party Express, a well-funded wing of the populist movement, said in an interview. "He's willing to go out there and tackle tough issues. The American people want somebody to make the tough choices."
Russo said his organization had polled its 17,000 members, and Ryan and freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida were the favorites for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.
The conservative reward of Ryan also carries a significant political risk — and Democrats wasted no time in making it a top talking point.
The Ryan budget would scrap the current Medicare system that the nation's seniors have enjoyed for decades in favor of a voucher program for those under 55 today. Starting in 10 years, the plan also calls for gradually raising the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 67.
Democrats immediately sounded the alarm about the implications of changing the popular entitlement program, a warning certain to resonate in battleground states such as Florida, Iowa and Pennsylvania — states with the heaviest concentration of those 65 and over.
"In selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has crystalized the contrast of this election," said Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. "Ryan is the architect of Romney's extreme budget plan which would end Medicare as we know it, increasing the healthcare costs for Florida's seniors by thousands every year."
The state's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces a stiff challenge in his bid for another term, quickly posted on Facebook.
"Romney VP pick bad for seniors. Signals an end to Medicare as we know it. My commitment to Medicare never stronger," Nelson said.
Democrats are certain to replay past Republican criticism of the Ryan budget.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and one-time Republican presidential candidate, referred to Ryan's plan to overhaul Medicare as "right-wing social engineering." He later apologized.
Florida Rep. Connie Mack, who hopes to win the Republican Senate nomination Tuesday, said in April of the Ryan budget: "You know that budget was a joke, doesn't balance the budget for years." An aide later clarified that Mack was referring to the voting process in which Republican-passed legislation in the House goes nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Mack's deficit-cutting plan calls for cutting one penny from every federal dollar spent.
Republicans see Ryan, a Catholic from Wisconsin who could appeal to blue-collar voters, as an appealing complement to Romney, a Mormon and multimillionaire.
But Ryan has tangled with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and others in the church over his budget, which would cut Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants and a host of other programs that directly help the nation's poor.
Ryan had said the budget is based on Catholic social teaching. But in a letter, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese called that nonsense.
"I am afraid that Chairman Ryan's budget reflects the values of his favorite philosopher Ayn Rand rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "Survival of the fittest may be OK for social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love."
Romney insisted on Saturday that Ryan is intent on creating opportunities for all Americans.
"Paul is in public life for all the right reasons — not to advance his personal ambitions but to advance the ideals of freedom and justice, and to increase opportunity and prosperity to people of every class and faith, every age and ethnic background," Romney said.
Donna Cassata was The Associated Press' political editor in 2004, 2006 and 2008.