ABC News Exclusive: Meet the Budget Boss, Rep. Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan Isn't Afraid to Ruffle Feathers, Pushes for Aggressive Cuts

Jan. 26, 2011 -- He's the man with more power over the federal budget than anybody in Congress: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican with the budget axe. He describes himself as a man on a mission -- determined, he says, to do what is fiscally prudent no matter the political consequences.

"I am the budget chairman. I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I have been pointing out the big flaws of all of the taxing and the spending that has been going on around here." Ryan said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

Ryan, a 40-year-old father of three, worked as a Congressional staffer before being elected in his own right when he was just 28. He is a little like the guy in the movie "Dave," who accidently finds himself president and sets out to fix the budget.

But in the movie, Dave (Kevin Kline) only has to find $650 million in savings. Ryan wants to cut about $5 trillion over the next 10 years.

"The sooner you do this, the better off we are," Ryan said. "If you do it now it really is not that painful."

Fresh numbers out today from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predict that this year's federal budget deficit will come in at $1.5 trillion, a new record, adding fuel to the political firestorm on Capitol Hill over budget cuts, entitlement programs and tax policies.

"The deficit is really going off the charts. That is a big surprise. The deficit is actually higher than we expected," Ryan said. "The debt held by the public right now they are saying 69 percent of GDP. What economists tell us is you get over 60 percent and you are in the danger zone."

Ryan has earned a reputation as being something of a "numbers wonk." He majored in economics and political science at Miami University of Ohio. Since coming to Congress in 1998, he has made fiscal responsibility one of his pet issues.

"I have been reading these things since I was 22 years old," he said while thumbing through one of last year's budget books.

Rep. Paul Ryan: ABC News Exclusive

Ryan approaches budget cuts with a passion. When asked where he finds inspiration for suggested cuts, Ryan said, "You literally go through [the budget] line by line." Last year, Ryan produced a long-term proposal for balancing the federal budget called "A Roadmap for America's Future."

"My goal with 'The Roadmap' was to get this conversation to an adult level of conversation so other people brought their ideas to the table. That didn't happen the last couple of years," Ryan told ABC News. "We created two new open-ended health care entitlements. So what happened was the other side chose to use this as a political weapon."

Ryan's budget ideas have in fact drawn fire from the opposite side of the aisle: To Democrats, Ryan is a budget villain, who would balance the budget on the backs of seniors and the poor.

"In the nicest way I have to say, he doesn't know what he is talking about," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Others have called Ryan's proposed cuts "draconian." But Ryan says he sees controlling the debt as a moral obligation.

"I would say that what is draconian is doing nothing and lying to the American people about these fiscal problems that we have," he said. "What is draconian is procrastinating on fixing our fiscal problems, because then you will have European kinds of austerity."

Ryan scoffs at the spending freeze proposed by President Obama.

"Look at these numbers. We are going to have a $2.5 trillion dollar debt in ten years and the president wants to cut 400 billion? Over 10 years. That is really nothing. That is peanuts," Ryan said.

Ryan's "Road Map" offered a plan to balance the budget that would eventually replace Medicare with a program to give seniors money to buy private insurance. It was so politically radioactive that only 13 Republicans signed on.

Now, as the budget chairman in the House, Ryan has to craft a budget that can actually pass.