Democrats and Republicans alike turn their attention to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his budget proposal.

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Election 2012

WASHINGTON — With Mitt Romney on a steady march to the Republican presidential nomination after a sweep of three primaries, both he and President Obama are seizing on the Republican House budget, and its architect, Rep. Paul Ryan, as a defining issue of the unfolding campaign.

After Wisconsin’s Ryan helped Romney secure a crucial primary victory Tuesday in Wisconsin, Romney on Wednesday tightened his embrace of the House Budget Committee chairman despite a withering assault a day earlier from Obama on the Ryan spending plan and what he said it reflected about Republican priorities.

In his most direct clash yet with the president, Romney defended Ryan before newspaper editors gathered in Washington as a politician who “unlike this president, has had the courage to offer serious solutions to the problems we face.”

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Other Republicans cast Ryan, 42, as the intellectual light of the party and the heir to Jack Kemp, the late New York congressman who also specialized in fiscal policy and was Sen. Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.

The president sought to reinforce the narrative of two men joined at the hip. Obama noted in a speech Tuesday to the same convention of journalists that Romney had endorsed Ryan’s budget-cutting fiscal plan as “marvelous.” The president then went on to assail it as a “radical vision” that would deepen the inequality in U.S. society.

For Obama, painting Ryan as a sort of wild-eyed wingman to Romney carries clear benefits, according to his advisers: It yokes Romney to the unpopular elements of the Ryan budget — from deep cuts in social programs to a Medicare overhaul that could drive up costs for future retirees and fundamentally change the health plan — and it makes it tougher for Romney to tack to the center once he gets past the primaries.

“He’s very much lashed to Ryan and the House Republicans,” said David Axelrod, a top Obama strategist. “They share an economic view and a view on the budget. By essentially embracing the framework of Ryan, Romney is also embracing the steps that would be necessary to implement it.”

Romney has cultivated an alliance with Ryan, who escorted him around Wisconsin during five days of campaigning in his home state. Talk of a Romney-Ryan ticket swelled in recent days, as Ryan, fresh from endorsing Romney, joined him at town-hall meetings, schooled him on the pleasures of a “ButterBurger” and introduced him at his victory speech in Milwaukee on Tuesday evening, when Romney also won primaries in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Asked recently if he would run with Romney if asked, Ryan said he would have to consider it.

To further the perception of two men in sync, the Obama campaign has issued a side-by-side comparison of the budgets proposed by Ryan and Romney. Obama advisers have taken to calling it the Romney-Ryan budget.

Both budgets, the Obama campaign asserts, would cut taxes sharply for the wealthy; gut public education, medical research and other government programs; and increase the burden on senior citizens to pay for their own health care.

While budget analysts say the two plans are similar, they are not identical. Ryan, for example, proposes overhauling the tax code, collapsing the six rates for personal-income tax into two rates: 25 percent and 10 percent. Romney would retain the six rates but cut each by 20 percent. Both plans would repeal the president’s health-care law. But Ryan would retain the administration’s proposed cuts in Medicare, while Romney would scrap them.

“The idea that they are carbon copies is obviously not true,” said Marc Goldwein, policy director at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “But conceptually, there is a lot of similarity.”

Romney’s advisers said they did not expect him to resist comparisons between his budget plan and Ryan’s. After all, they said, not only does Romney largely support the plan, but any discussion between Romney and the Obama administration over the budget will play to Romney’s strength on the economy, they said.

“Obama is trying to set this up to demonize the House budget chairman,” said Kevin Madden, an adviser to the Romney campaign. “Governor Romney is going to talk about his vision for the country and his ideas for entitlement reform and tackling spending and reducing deficits. He welcomes efforts by people like Paul Ryan to address it, because Obama hasn’t.”

In his speech to the newspaper editors, Obama focused on the cost of the Ryan plan, which he said would be ruinous. Calling it a “Trojan horse” and “social Darwinism,” the president said that by the middle of the century, it would all but eliminate spending on medical research, air traffic control and Head Start.

Romney, for his part, said the president had set up a “series of straw men” by claiming that under the Ryan budget, there would be proportional spending cuts in government programs. In fact, Romney said, some programs would be eliminated outright, while others would be preserved, although he offered no details.

Beyond that, he accused the president of lacking leadership in confronting the nation’s fiscal problems. He described Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as providing an unsatisfactory response when being grilled on Capitol Hill recently about how to deal with entitlement costs. The questioner: Paul Ryan.


Still in: Campaigning at a diner in his former congressional district Wednesday, the day after he lost three primaries, Rick Santorum brushed aside calls to bow out of the Republican presidential race and allow front-runner Mitt Romney to focus on defeating President Obama in the fall.

“I’ve endured about eight months of people saying that,” he said, after greeting voters at Bob’s Diner in Carnegie, Pa., and responding to Sen. John McCain’s statement earlier in the day on CNN that Santorum had become “irrelevant.” “I’ve never been the establishment candidate and that holds true till today and that’s nothing new,” Santorum said. The former Pennsylvania senator acknowledged that a victory in the state’s April 24 primary would be critical to his candidacy.

“We have to win here and we plan on winning here,” Santorum said, adding that he believed attacks by Romney and his supporters wouldn’t be as successful here as they had been in other states. “The people in Pennsylvania know me. All of the negative attacks are, I think, going to fall on deaf ears here and we have a strong basis of support here and we’re going to work very, very hard.”

Santorum, who dined on eggs, hot sausage and a specialty local Italian bread, demurred when asked whether he was harming his future political prospects by remaining in the race. He said he hadn’t given any thought to his chances to be the GOP nominee in 2016.

Republican retirement: U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., intends to drop his bid for a seventh term and retire, a Republican official said Wednesday. Johnson, 65, was expected to announced his decision Thursday. The reason for Johnson’s decision was not clear; he is just two weeks removed from a primary victory over two candidates in the new 13th Congressional District, and he was considered a strong candidate for re-election in November.

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