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Published August 14, 2012
Before Paul Ryan was pinned as an “extreme” and “radical” ideologue, Democrats actually kind of liked the guy.
Several clips of prominent Democrats — including President Obama — praising Ryan have surged through the Internet in the days since Mitt Romney tapped the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate. They once called his ideas “serious” and “honest,” which is not what the Obama campaign and its affiliates are saying about him now.
Arguably the most robust praise came from Erskine Bowles, the White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton who recently co-chaired President Obama’s deficit-reduction committee.
In a late 2011 talk at the University of North Carolina, Bowles told the audience “this guy is amazing.”
“I always thought I was okay with arithmetic. This guy can run circles around me, and he is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere,” Bowles said. “And the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget.”
Bowles went on to criticize the spending plans that had come out of the Obama White House.
North Carolina’s News & Observer newspaper dug up the rest of that speech, finding that at one point, Bowles also called Ryan’s controversial Medicare overhaul “a pretty radical change” that he’d rather avoid.
But in a March 29, 2012, PBS interview, Bowles said that Ryan’s plan to offer government payments to buy private insurance should nevertheless remain an “option” going forward. He even said “you would want to consider” a newer version of the Ryan plan that lets people keep traditional Medicare as an alternative.
Bowles repeated his sentiment that Ryan is a “very smart, stable, honest, hardworking guy.”
In 2010 on the same program, Bowles said: “I wish we had more people like Paul who are thinkers and do their homework.”
Around the same time, Obama was similarly upbeat on Ryan’s role in the Republican Party.
In 2010, Obama said at a Republican retreat that Ryan had “made a serious proposal” with his budget. Obama criticized the idea of giving “vouchers” for Medicare, but acknowledged the need to address the deficit spending that Medicare and Medicaid fuel.
Romney, though, is pointing most prominently to Ryan’s work with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden to make the case that Ryan is more bipartisan than he’s made out to be by Democrats.
Ryan and Wyden late last year drafted a new proposal for Medicare — tweaking Ryan’s old plan by offering seniors a choice between government-subsidized private insurance and regular Medicare.
“One of the things I like about Paul Ryan is he’s demonstrated over his years there an ability to work across the aisle to find people who have common purpose who may disagree on some issues but find enough common ground to get things done,” Romney said Monday. “And, for instance, him coming together with a plan to save Medicare for future generations, no change to current Medicare beneficiaries or people near retirement but for future beneficiaries, he and Sen. Wyden have come together. This is the kind of bipartisanship we need more of, not less.”
In an interview this summer on a program called Medscape, Wyden discussed that proposal, saying: “It really starts from the proposition that no one would go out and buy a house without some idea of knowing what they’re paying for.
“And much of what we’re going to have to do with Medicare is to be sure that traditional Medicare with its purchasing power can be maintained, while at the same time we offer private sector choices, so that the two will strengthen each other. And in that sense, we recognize that much of the Medicare debate is not at all ideological,” he said.
According to The Huffington Post, Wyden is pushing back on some of Romney’s claims, particularly one that Wyden and Ryan helped “co-lead” a piece of legislation — since they wrote a policy paper, not a bill.
Then there’s the off-mic moment caught in 2011 between Clinton and Ryan backstage at an event.
In the cellphone footage, aired by ABC News at the time, Clinton said he hoped a recent Democratic congressional victory wouldn’t be used “as an excuse to do nothing.”
“My guess is it’s going to sink into paralysis is what’s going to happen,” Ryan told the former president. “And you know the math. I mean, it’s just we knew we were putting ourselves out there. But you’ve got to start this. You’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to get this thing moving.”
Clinton opened the door, saying: “If you ever want to talk about it …”
“Yeah, I’ll give you a call,” Ryan said.