GUY RAZ, HOST:
Let's go now to Vin Weber, former Minnesota congressman and a senior adviser to Mitt Romney. Vin Weber, thanks for joining us.
VIN WEBER: Great to be with you today.
RAZ: You have known Paul Ryan for a long time, since before he was a member of Congress. How did you know him?
WEBER: After I left Congress, we formed an organization called Empower America with the late Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and I was the president of the organization. Paul came and went to work for us in our first two years in existence mainly because of his passionate interest in the ideas we were advancing and, frankly, to be around Jack Kemp, who is sort of a hero figure to him and who many of us thought would be running for president in the next four years.
RAZ: What do you believe Paul Ryan brings to the GOP ticket?
WEBER: He has really thought through comprehensively an approach to the biggest problem facing the country today, in my personal opinion, and that is this looming debt crisis that we face. Paul is the guy in the trenches, the active elected official that has actually done the most to think through a comprehensive approach to entitlement reform, taxes, spending and debt, and that's a huge, huge contribution to this ticket.
RAZ: It is a controversial position that Paul Ryan has taken. When his plan was revealed to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher system, a CNN poll showed, at the time this last year, 74 percent of elderly voters opposed that plan. Couldn't this decision hand, you know, say, Florida to the Obama-Biden ticket?
WEBER: I think that we've got to engage the debate and win the argument. We have to explain to seniors as well as younger voters who are coming up and going to have to face this that the present track that Medicare is on is not sustainable. We can save Medicare. We can have a Medicare program for me and for my kids and for our grandchildren, but we can't just pretend that it doesn't need to be changed. Paul has put forward a plan for saving Medicare and doing it consistently with our budget problem.
RAZ: President George W. Bush could not convince Congress or voters to back his plan to privatize Social Security. That is another major part of Paul Ryan's agenda. Should we assume that will become part of the Romney agenda?
WEBER: I think that Romney has his own agenda, and he's clearly the head of the ticket. We have to remember that even though today's focus is all on Paul Ryan for vice president, Mitt Romney is still the guy who's going to be the nominee, and he reserves the right to put forward his own plan. A lot of Paul's expertise, though, is going to be brought to bear on this problem.
And, of course, whoever gets elected has to negotiate with the Congress to a certain extent. And I would argue both Republicans and Democrats, a big solution to a problem like this can't really be done on a party line vote. I think that Romney has said encouraging things about Ryan's plan, but I think he is going to reserve the right to have the Romney plan as opposed to the Ryan plan.
RAZ: In recent days, Vin Weber, as you know, President Obama has widened his lead over Mitt Romney in polls. A Fox poll showed him with a nine-point lead over Mitt Romney. Obviously, we're going to see whether this changes in the coming days in the wake of the Paul Ryan news. But by all accounts, Democrats seem overjoyed by this pick. I mean, they're arguing Paul Ryan plays right into their argument that Romney is the candidate only for the rich.
WEBER: Well, it gives us a philosophical distinction, and that's - and you've described it the way that the Democrats will describe it. And so from their standpoint, sure, I can understand why liberal Democrats who want to have the philosophical argument that we want to have on the other side, obviously, would be delighted with this pick. But I think that they're going to be surprised when they find out how strongly the country feels about some of these issues.
The 2010 election sent a very strong signal about how the country is feeling about the growth of government, the growth of debt, the growth of spending and the growth of taxation. And I think Democrats are going to find out that the country is not quite as ready to buy their line as they think they are.
RAZ: That's Vin Weber, former Minnesota congressman and top adviser to Mitt Romney. Vin Weber, thanks.
WEBER: Thank you very much. Good to be with you today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.