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Possible VP contenders decry fiscal woes at summit


WASHINGTON -- Two potential Republican vice presidential contenders had the same warning Tuesday afternoon: it is time to fix the country’s fiscal problems now.

Addressing the 2012 Fiscal Summit, both Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said the economy is likely to slip back into a recession if action isn’t taken soon.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., participates in an onstage interview during the Peterson Foundation 2012 Fiscal Summit May 15 in Washington.

“I think we know enough to know it's going to be devastating to the economy if we don't deal with these issues before year end,” Portman said, referring to looming work on expiring Bush tax cuts and raising the nation's debt ceiling. Portman said that while it's difficult to finish work on those issues during an election year, it is necessary.

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget committee, said his goal is to help get the trajectory of the debt back on a downward slope.

While neither prominent Republican addressed VP speculation or their support of Gov. Mitt Romney, both took aim, at times, at the same target -- President Barack Obama.

“There are Democrats and Republicans who largely agree with each other on how best to tackle these challenges.  Unfortunately, it's not the current president and it's not the Senate leadership that we're dealing with right now,” Ryan said.

Democrats and Republicans have been struggling to deal with the debt crisis for years, most recently during a protracted 2011 fight over cutting spending and raising the nation's borrowing limit. But Congress has made little progress since the collapse of last year's "supercommittee" established in the debt ceiling agreement. Portman was a member of that supercommittee.

“I will say that Democrats needed a little help in terms of the supercommittee. We didn't have that. In fact what we had was a veto threat if it wasn't done just the way President Obama wanted it done. That's not leadership,” Portman admitted, saying presidential leadership is needed to help figure out problems as a country.

And, it seems unlikely the economic issues will be resolved prior to November’s presidential election. And Ryan doubts the lame-duck session will bring any resolutions either.

“I don't think you'll see a permanent resolution to our problems in a lame duck session. I'm not sure that's the appropriate place to do that,” the chairman said, adding: “I personally believe if we can remove these partisan roadblocks, that we can get to a moment where we're going to have a solution once and for all for this problem and hopefully in time to prevent an austeritylike debt crisis.”

Former President Bill Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and House Speaker John Boehner also addressed the summit, sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.