Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House budget committee and a potential running mate for Mitt Romney on the GOP presidential ticket, urged Congress to look beyond party labels as lawmakers scour the country searching for a bipartisan solution to a burgeoning financial crisis, but said that Republicans "don't really have partners" in the effort to reduce the deficit.
"We want to preempt and prevent a debt crisis. We know one's coming. That much is true," Ryan, R-Wis., said during an address at the Peter G. Peterson Fiscal Summit in Washington today. "We also have to make sure that we don't simply blame the other party, because you know what? This is a creation of both political parties."
Ryan said that "both political parties made lots of promises to voters, which ended up being empty promises" but his goal when writing the GOP's budget blueprint was to "get the trajectory of our debt on a downward slope" in order to avert an eventual debt crisis.
"What we have on our horizon is a debt crisis where those empty promises could quickly translate into broken promises, and what we are trying to do is to prevent that from happening," he said. "What we're trying to do is to get us back on the traditional American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net that is known for growth, for prosperity, for upward mobility."
Ryan said that right now, Republicans feel like they "don't really have partners" in the effort to rein in the country's debt, but he is seeking bipartisan cooperation despite strong opposition from Democratic leaders in Congress.
"The typical criticism we get is we're not offering a balanced approach. I would simply say if a balanced approach means never balancing the budget that's not the kind of balanced approach we want to have," Ryan said. "A lot of folks who talk about having a balanced approach say just raise more tax rates, but don't deal with the structural drivers of our debt, don't restructure these entitlement programs so they can still fulfill their mission. If you don't deal with these entitlement programs in a profound, structural way, ways in which we've proposed that have traditionally had bipartisan support, then you'll never deal with the trajectory of our debt, and if you simply keep raising tax rates then you'll slow down the economy."
Ryan said there is a budding awareness among some members on both sides of the aisle that sweeping changes are necessary in order to prevent a fiscal crisis in the near future. Still Ryan conceded that Congress is unlikely to solve all of the country's fiscal woes during the lame duck.
"Many of us agree on how best to reform the Medicare program, many of us agree on the right direction of tax reform, [and] many of us agree on the outlines of a successful fiscal consolidation which is designed to preempt austerity and get us back on a path to prosperity," he said. "We can do it in a way that protects the poor, the sick and asks more of the wealthy. We can do it in that way so that the mission of health and retirement security is one that is actually a fulfilled mission implemented in the 21 st century."
Speaker Boehner also addressed the summit, calling on President Obama to "again meet the principle of cuts greater than the hike" on any agreement to a looming debt limit increase and also announcing that the House will vote before the November election on comprehensive tax reform.
Ryan said he was open to a temporary extension of all of the current tax rates in order to get through the election and enable whoever is elected president this fall to implement the president should propose a six-month extension to get into the next presidency.
"I'm totally open to that," Ryan said. "The duration of the extension I think is probably up for negotiation, but I think most people are thinking we'll have some kind of a [temporary] extension into the 2013 window."
Ryan, who has repeatedly downplayed any talk about joining Romney on the GOP ticket, was not asked about it today.