Convention focus shifts to Ryan, budget

TAMPA, Fla. -- Departing from an economic message that has dominated the Republican National Convention, Maryland Rep. Andy Harris used an address to state party leaders here today to focus instead on how to deal with federal budget deficits and government spending.

That theme will play heavily in Tampa as Republicans work to fire up delegates for tonight's speech by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee. As part of that effort, Ryan's brother, Tobin, is also meeting with state delegations and spoke briefly to Maryland's.

"Paul Ryan is not going to tell you what you want to hear, he's going to tell you what you have to hear," said Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who represents the state's 1st Congressional District. "We've got to stop the pandering…They're making believe that we don't have a real problem in the United States right now."

Ryan has been celebrated by some Republican for drafting a budget proposal that tried to address the spiraling cost of Medicare, the leading cause of long-term budget deficits. But he's been jeered by Democrats for his approach to the problem: Offering vouchers to seniors they would use to purchase health insurance. Democrats say the vouchers would not keep up with the rising costs of health care and Republicans counter the system would encourage competition and lower those costs.

The proposal, which passed the GOP-controlled House but was never considered by the Democrat-run Senate, would also make significant cuts to the overall size of government. Democrats have sought to use the Ryan budget as a weapon against the Republican Party for months --and now they hope to pin it on presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County lawmaker and the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is in Tampa today to speak to reporters ahead of Paul's speech.

"The Romney-Ryan plan simply shifts rising health care costs on to the backs of seniors," said Van Hollen, who has lined up back-to-back media appearances in Tampa. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, he said, "is very clear that the Romney Ryan approach doesn't reduce health care costs, it simply transfers the risks and burdens of those costs on to" seniors.

How the Ryan budget is being received in Maryland, where Republican voters tend to be more centrist, is unclear. Cuts to the federal government are likely to have a disproportionate effect on the state's economy, which is closely tied to the federal workforce and government contractors. Van Hollen argued that those cuts would have a big impact on agencies based in the state, including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

"When it comes to non-defense, discretionary spending, the Ryan budget cuts more out of that  than" the automatic budget cuts to go into effect next year.

But Republicans here countered that they don't think the Ryan budget will have a big impact on turnout in Maryland.

"I don't think his message hurts in Maryland," said Harford County Executive David R. Craig, who is a delegate to the convention. "What will hurt Romney and Ryan in Maryland is they won't campaign here. They're going to have to be in the 12 contentious states."