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In Paul Ryan, Obama Finds Familiar Foe


Well, Democrats certainly hope Ryan will be a turnoff for voters in the middle of the political spectrum. President Obama has long used House Republicans as a foil. And now that one of the leaders in that group is on the ticket alongside Mitt Romney, the connection is that much clearer.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My opponent and Congressman Ryan and their allies in Congress, they all believe that if we just get rid of more regulations on big corporations, and we give more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, it will lead to jobs and prosperity for everybody else. That's what they're proposing.

RAZ: That's President Obama at a rally in Chicago earlier today. NPR's Scott Horsley joins me now to talk about the president's reaction to the pick. Scott, Paul Ryan's certainly a familiar target for the president?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: He is, Guy. And, you know, the president's not someone who's a glad-hander with a lot of people on Capitol Hill. He occasionally trips over the names of members of Congress. But Paul Ryan is a name and a policymaker that he has known about for a long time now.

If you go all the way back to early 2010 when Republicans were still the minority party, the president attended a GOP retreat in Baltimore, and he singled out Paul Ryan's plan for overhauling Medicare as one that he'd read and found provocative. He raised some of the same concerns about the plan, that it might shift cost onto the back of seniors, that he'll express now.

But he also said back then, look, we're never going to tackle these serious problems if Republicans try to scare seniors into being worried about what the Democrats are going to do or if Democrats keep trying to scare seniors about what Republicans are trying to do. He really tried to head up more of a tone of civility.

RAZ: It sounds, though, like scaring seniors is still going to be or is an important weapon for both parties.

HORSLEY: Yes. By last spring, the president had certainly given up on that sort of civil discourse, and he was just going after Paul Ryan's budget. Now, by this time, of course, the Republicans were in the majority in the House. They were exerting more influence on fiscal policy. And the president, when he laid out his own deficit-cutting plan, he just attacked the Ryan budget, which some were calling serious and courageous.

He said, look, there's nothing serious about trying to tackle the deficit while giving big tax cuts to the wealthy. And he argued there's nothing courageous about cutting spending on programs that primarily help the most vulnerable members of our society.

RAZ: That was a speech he gave last year, right? And Paul Ryan was on the audience.

HORSLEY: And Ryan was sitting right there, and it was really drawing the battle lines that now we're going to see in this election.

RAZ: Scott, let me ask you about the deficit, which Ryan insists is a real problem. Is that a concern for a lot of voters?

HORSLEY: Well, it is a concern certainly for some voters, and you're hearing that among the Republican crowds that Mitt Romney's speaking to. The Democrats bring two arguments to the table. One is they say this is not really the time to be worried about the deficit while we've still got 8.3 percent unemployment. The deficit's more of a long-term problem. Let's put people back to work.

They also tackle Paul Ryan's standing to really paint himself as a deficit hawk. He was a member of that Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission. He voted against the final recommendation. And the president's supporters say, look, this is a guy who rubberstamped all the things that were done during the Bush administration that widened the deficit. So they're saying, look, Paul Ryan is kind of a phony deficit hawk.

RAZ: Hmm. It's going to be interesting. That's NPR's Scott Horsley covering the Obama re-election campaign. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.