U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan warned Americans Tuesday night the nation is careening toward a day of financial reckoning, promising Republicans will chart a different course that returns the country to prosperity by embracing its founders' principles of limited government.
"Spending cuts must come first," he said at one point.
Ryan's warning came after President Obama, in his State of the Union address, touted new investments he said would help spur research and development and lead to the country’s next great economic breakthrough. Obama is due in Wisconsin on Wednesday to promote his State of the Union messages.
Delivering the Republicans' rebuttal, however, Ryan said the nation faces a crushing debt that will soon eclipse the entire economy. He said his three children, ages 6, 7, and 8, face the possibility of a government twice in size and a tax bill twice as large by the time they're raising their own kids.
"Our debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis," Ryan said. "We cannot deny it; instead we must, as Americans, confront it responsibly."
Ryan painted a stark picture, saying there was little time left to avoid such a harsh reality and contending America is now at a turning point where its best days slip behind it unless the growth of government is reined in.
Ryan, R-Janesville and chair of the Budget Committee, was dismissive of the president's talk of investments, calling them repackaged "stimulus" that has already failed the country. Despite billions spent, the economy continues to lag with unemployment hovering around 9 percent and the country's deficit and debts exploding, Ryan maintained.
To make matters worse, Ryan said, the president and Democrats pushed through a health care overhaul that hasn't stopped costs from going up and is instead accelerating the country’s sprint toward bankruptcy.
"Their actions show they want a federal government that controls too much, taxes too much, and spends too much in order to do too much," Ryan said.
Ryan said Republicans offer an alternative that returns the country to its founding principles of individual freedom through limited government. He said that means a government that limits itself to defending the nation, securing its borders, protecting "innocent life," upholding the nation's laws and constitutional rights, ensuring domestic tranquility and equal opportunity, and providing a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.
The key, Ryan said, is for government to quit borrowing and spending and instead get out of the way.
"We believe the days of business as usual must come to an end," Ryan said. "We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first."
Ryan's fellow Republicans in the Wisconsin delegation embraced his call for reining in government spending.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, now the longest-serving member of the delegation, praised Ryan's speech and welcomed Obama's call to work together even as he expressed skepticism over some of the president's proposals.
"I find substance is always more important than style or even seating arrangements, which is why I believe that regardless of whether it's called stimulus money or an 'investment,' we must stop our borrowing and cut our spending," Sensenbrenner said. "We can't continue down the path of fiscal irresponsibility and expect our nation to return to prosperity."
Wisconsin's Dem lawmakers embraced the president's call for fiscal discipline alongside his promise to continue investing in the country's future.
"We need to pursue policies that will keep our nation the most creative, competitive and innovative in the world," said U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse. "Staying on the cutting edge in science, medicine, technology and manufacturing discoveries and breakthroughs will allow us to do just that. But we must find a way to do it responsibly, investing in what works and cutting what doesn't."
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said the president’s call for a five-year budget freeze would be painful, but was a necessary step to get the country’s fiscal house in order.
Still, she also knocked Republicans for their vote earlier Tuesday to go on record in seeking to return federal spending to 2008 levels without including any cuts in defense spending.
"The bottom line is that it's regrettable that the GOP wants to take us back. They want to undo the progress we've made," Moore said. "They want to give up on making America competitive in the 21st Century. And to add insult to injury, their plans aren't even fiscally sound. You just can't balance the budget on spending cuts especially at the same time as working to get rid of the capital gains tax and the estate tax."