TAMPA, Fla. -- The calls for dramatic change in federal spending that Paul Ryan has sounded in Congress found a wider stage Wednesday night as the Republican vice presidential nominee pledged tough solutions to the nation's economic ills.
"We will not duck the tough issues,'' said the conservative budget architect who has eagerly courted controversy with proposals to transform Medicare while imposing sharp cuts on spending programs including Medicare and other domestic programs.
"We will lead,'' he told the delegates to the Republican National Convention who had formally nominated him the night before as Mitt Romney's running mate. "We will not spend four years blaming others. We will take responsibility. We will not try to replace our founding principles. We will reapply our founding principles."
His appearance capped a convention night that mixed what may be the face of the Republican future with voices from its recent past. The other most anticipated speech came as Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, who assailed President Obama's foreign policy along with and joined the party's last presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, in calling for a more assertive role for the nation abroad.
But the night's spotlight was on Mr. Ryan, the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman who rose from congressional staff positions to wield the gavel of the House Budget Committee. His speech opened with a withering assault on the fiscal plans of the incumbent, coupled with broad promises to reverse course.
"The first troubling sign came with the stimulus,'' he said. "It was President Obama's first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion -- the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government ... The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.''
Mr. Ryan turned from his criticism of stimulus to the health care legislation, a constant GOP target.
"You would think that any president, whatever his party, would make job creation, and nothing else, his first order of economic business,'' Mr. Ryan said. "But this president didn't do that. Instead, we got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care.''
The passage stirred loud boos for the health care bill from the delegates, while in a corner of the stands to Mr. Ryan's left, two demonstrators lifted a banner and shouted protests of GOP abortion polices before being usher form the hall.
Mr. Ryan, who has proposed significant revision in Medicare for future recipients, under the age of 55, turned to Medicare, an issue that Democrats have traditionally used against Republicans, and melded it to his attack on the federal health care legislation.
"And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly,'' he charged. "You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn't have enough money. ... So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.''
The health care bill seeks that sum from future payments to health care providers. Democrats regularly note that budget legislation sponsored by Mr. Ryan seeks the same amount in savings form Medicare, in that case, devoted to deficit reduction. Summarizing the Republican side of a debate sure to carry through November, he declared that, "An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for,'' he said. "The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we're going to stop it.''
Recalling a time in which he and his mother cared for an ailing grandmother in his family's home, he said, "We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it's there for my Mom today. Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom's generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.''
At one point, he stirred loud laughter and one of the speech's recurring rounds of applause as he said. "College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.''
Mr. Ryan said he was weary of the administration's reminders of the dire economic situation inherited from the administration of President George W. Bush.
"The man assumed office almost four years ago,'' he said. "Isn't it about time he assumed responsibility?
Mr. Ryan shared the high-profile 10-11 p.m. hour with Ms. Rice, who was secretary of state under the Bush administration -- an era seldom mentioned on the Republican campaign trail. The Bush years are not a rallying point for the GOP, not just because of the financial crisis that crested in its last year, but because of the increased spending and deficits that are anathema to the fiscal conservatives and Tea Party activists that have taken such a growing role in the party over the last four years.
Mr. Romney and his former GOP rivals, like the speakers here, tend to look further back, to the conservative icon Ronald Reagan, when they invoke the party's past. Although neither one will appear in Tampa, the father and son Bush were the focus of a video tribute last night, that mixed reminiscences from the 41st and 43rd presidents with their joint endorsement of Mitt Romney.
Ms. Rice, who worked for both, remains popular with the general public. Through the summer, the Democratic leaning firm, Public Policy Polling, tested the potential impact of various potential GOP vice presidential candidates. Ms. Rice's name was the only one that reliably increased the vote total of a hypothetical ticket out side of their home state.
It was also a night stood out in the convention for its emphasis on foreign policy and defense, topics that have usually taken a back seat to the economy in this campaign.
Ms. Rice never mentioned the president by name but her remarks embodied the Republican critique of his administration voiced by Mr. Romney and other Republicans.
"Everyone asks, 'where does America stand?'" she said.
"When friends or foes alike do not know the answer to that question -- unambiguously and clearly -- the world is likely to be a more dangerous place.''
"Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone who does not share our values will fill the vacuum,'' she said, adding that, "Our foes cannot doubt our resolve, because peace really does come through strength.''
Ms. Rice, now an administrator at Stanford University, opened with the foreign policy issues that she dealt with in government, but she moved on to calls for change in trade policy, immigration and education.
She charged that the United States was falling behind China and other nations in expanding free trade "and it will come back to haunt us.''
She called for tougher border security combined with the recognition that "we are a compassionate nation of immigrants.''
And she called for tougher education standards, and improvements in urban schools, calling that, "the civil rights issue of our time."
Mitt Romney traveled to Indiana Wednesday to campaign. Mr. Romney, who drew decidedly mixed reviews on his foreign trip earlier this summer, looked back on that trip to Britain, Poland and Israel as he used a speech to the American Legion convention in Indianapolis to denounce President Obama's record abroad.
"For the past four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish,'' he said. "In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due.''
He also denounced Mr. Obama for defense cuts, balanced by domestic cuts, that are threatened by the sequester agreement that Congress and the administration reached as temporary way of resolving their impasse on raising the nation's debt limit. Mr. Ryan voted for that agreement, although he and other congressional Republicanw have since moved to circumvent the defense cuts.
The Obama campaign was quick to fire back on Mr. Romney's accusations.
"Lost in his speech was the fact that the only thing standing in the way of preventing the automatic defense cuts he decried is his refusal to ask for another dime from millionaires and billionaires,'' Lis Smith, an Obama spokesman said in a statement released by his campaign.
"If Mitt Romney were truly serious about helping veterans, he'd tell Congressman Ryan and his Republican allies in Congress to work with the President to achieve a balanced deficit reduction plan that includes asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share while investing in veterans and the middle class -- as the President's" plan does, she said.
Politics Editor James O'Toole: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562. First Published August 30, 2012 4:15 AM