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Ryan previews bruising spring fiscal showdown

 

Republicans are dug in as ever against raising new taxes, and their budgetary standard-bearer, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, said Sunday that the Republican House of Representatives has already moved past the question of new revenues. 

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and former GOP vice presidential nominee, laid out the contours of what will almost certainly be a bruising springtime debate on taxes and spending — an outgrowth of the unresolved consequences of the "fiscal cliff."

House Budget Chairman and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan discusses his views on economic solutions and immigration reform in an exclusive interview on Meet the Press with David Gregory.

And as the GOP-held House and the Democratic-controlled Senate prepare dueling budget proposals, Ryan argued that the president was unserious about tackling the mounting national debt. 

"The president got his additional revenues. So that's behind us," Ryan said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in his first live interview since the presidential election, when Ryan and presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost decisively to President Barack Obama. 

During the campaign, Romney and Ryan talked forcefully about reforming taxes and raising revenues by closing loopholes and deductions that favor the wealthy. While Democrats won higher taxes on household income over $450,000 as part of the New Year's deal to stave off the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in the fiscal cliff, Democrats now say they'll produce a budget asking for even more revenue, possibly through similar tax reforms.

"Are we for raising revenues? No we're not," Ryan said. "If you keep raising revenues, you're not going to get decent tax reform."

The Wisconsin congressman's comments portend a debate over taxes and spending in Washington featuring parties as far apart as ever. Republicans this week passed legislation to suspend the debt limit — and, with it, the specter of default — until May. But Congress must still reckon with the need to continue funding the government, and address the automatic and drastic spending cuts (known as the "sequester") that were delayed only for two months as part of the fiscal cliff.

"I think the sequester's going to happen," Ryan said, blaming Democrats for offering no palatable substitute for those cuts. 

And Ryan said that Republicans were "not interested" in a government shutdown, the consequence for which some GOP lawmakers have openly called should Obama and lawmakers fail to reach an agreement to fund the government.

But those looming questions — which are tied directly into the budgets that the House and Senate will debate this spring — reflect how Washington remained as vexed as ever by fiscal issues. 

And the rhetoric is hot as ever, too.

"I don't think that the president actually thinks we have a fiscal crisis," Ryan said. 

With tax and spending matters set to dominate much of lawmakers' energy for the first half of this year, it could make other elements of Obama's agenda — like immigration reform and curbing gun violence — more politically difficult. 

Ryan, who has praised a bipartisan set of immigration reforms offered by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, said he was cautiously optimistic about the prospects for immigration reform this year. But Ryan said that Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike would closely watch Obama's speech on Tuesday in Nevada on that topic.

And of the president's gun control measures, Ryan suggested openness to embracing some measures — like requiring universal background checks on gun sales — while expressing skittishness toward other elements of the plan, like the ban on assault weapons.

As Ryan himself navigates these very thorny issues for the next four years, his every action will be refracted through the prism of 2016 presidential politics. After having emerged as something of a GOP rock star as Romney's running mate last fall, many Republicans hope that the Wisconsin congressman might seek the presidency himself in four years, joining a tentative field of Republican contenders for the nomination that is full of proverbial heavyweights.

Ryan offered a familiar answer about his own potential ambitions, saying he doesn't think about running, and that he was currently focused on his job serving his constituents. 

"I think it's just premature. I've got an important job to do," he said. "I'll decide later about that."