Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told an Iowa audience Friday that his party can and must come together, and he held out his recently passed budget plan as a sign of growing GOP unity.
Although blocs of Republicans object to aspects of the plan passed Thursday in the U.S. House, Ryan said it embodies the principles upon which the nation was founded.
"Some people wanted to go further, some people thought it went too far. The point is we unified around these common principles in a plan," the Wisconsin congressman told reporters after headlining a state party dinner in Cedar Rapids. "That's very important to me — which is we can't just oppose, we have to propose."
Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, also played down the significance of his speech in Iowa, home of the leadoff presidential nominating caucuses. He declined to discuss plans beyond the election in November, including whether he would seek the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, in light of Michigan Rep. David Camp's decision to retire after 2014.
"It's just premature to get into all that stuff," he said.
Instead he said during his speech that Republicans must unify behind goals.
"We may disagree from time to time on tactics, but let's put it all in perspective and come together and unify on the task," he said after the speech.
Ryan headlined a fundraiser in Illinois before swinging west to Iowa, and he was headed home to southern Wisconsin after Friday night's event. He was invited to headline the Iowa dinner more than a year ago, and spoke to an audience of about 400. The annual spring dinner typically draws would-be presidential candidates as marquee speakers.
Many GOP officials in Iowa, the state where a Ryan presidential campaign would likely start, praised Ryan's effort drafting the budget, including Gov. Terry Branstad. But they also said it's far from perfect.
"I certainly do not endorse all the details in that budget. But I do give him credit for at least trying to do something," Branstad told The Associated Press this week. "I obviously am concerned about those things that would have a negative impact on our state or on our state budget."
Ryan authored the mostly symbolic measure. It promises a balanced federal ledger in 10 years through sweeping cuts in social spending, including major changes to the health care law.
The plan, which also calls for steps toward private market solutions, could be a sort of political credo for Ryan, should he seek the presidency.
Under the plan passed in the GOP-controlled House, Congress would repeal the Medicaid component of the 2010 health care bill. Last year, Branstad, like several GOP governors, agreed to expand and modify the state-administered health care plan for poor people, with the understanding that the federal government would provide financing for the expansion for three years before gradually decreasing the portion to 90 percent.
The GOP plan would cut more than $5 trillion over the coming decade. It would rely on sharp cuts to domestic programs, but leave Social Security untouched and shift more money to the Pentagon and health care for veterans. The cuts would come at the expense of poor people and seniors on Medicaid, lower-income workers receiving the health care law's subsidies, and people receiving food stamps or Pell Grants.
"House Republicans put our votes on the line, and we passed for the fourth year in a row a budget that balances the budget and pays off our debt," Ryan said, in his lone mention of the measure during his 20 minute speech Friday night.
The comment sparked a slow roll of applause across the banquet hall. But, several other Iowa GOP leaders and candidates said it would not go far enough.
Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler said "conservatives certainly don't like it," chiefly because it does not project a balanced budget until 2024.
Ten years is too long, said U.S. House candidate Matt Schultz, Iowa's secretary of state.
"We've got to start making serious decisions now," said Schultz. "A budget that says, '10 years from now,' is not good enough."
But the six-way GOP field for the June 3 primary Schultz is running in is divided on the measure, according to interviews with other 3rd District candidates.
"It moves the ball down the field," David Young, a former senior aide to Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, said of Ryan's plan. "And that's a good thing."
But it would allow increased total spending next year, the ultimate problem for conservatives, said former state GOP executive director Chuck Laudner.
"It's the same trap, even if the numbers add up," Laudner said. "People can't get past that opening paragraph: We're going to spend more."