House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned the U.S. faces a "tipping point" with its budget deficit from which there is no coming back.
Delivering the official GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address, Ryan said the nation must embrace fiscal discipline and austerity in the face of budget deficits that exploded after the financial crisis.
"Our nation is approaching a tipping point," Ryan said. "We are at a moment where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century."
Republicans won control of the House last fall largely on a campaign promise to restore fiscal discipline to Washington, which they argued was lost with Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling the House and Senate. The message resonated with voters, who helped the GOP gain 63 seats in the House.
Ryan's party now faces the challenge of cutting spending with Democrats still in charge of the White House and Senate. They also face a president who in his own State of the Union sought to show-off his own fiscal responsibility.
Meanwhile, there are signs of differences within the GOP over spending, with some conservative Republicans demanding greater cuts than those favored by Ryan. Splits within the House GOP were suggested by the fact that while Ryan delivered the official GOP response, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) offered a Tea Party response to the president's speech.
The choice by Republican leaders of Ryan to deliver their official response is no accident. He's regarded as a rising star who will be trusted to speak for the party in the coming budget battles, and his remarks on Tuesday night set the pace for those fights.
On Tuesday, the House voted to instruct Ryan to set budget ceiling for the current fiscal year at 2008 spending levels or less.
Ryan's speech framed some of the major issues facing Congress this year — healthcare reform, job creation, and others — in terms of its effect on the budget and long-term debt.
"Our forthcoming budget is our obligation to you – to show you how we intend to do things differently, how we will cut spending to get the debt down, help create jobs and prosperity, and reform government programs," Ryan said.
The White House will unveil its budget in coming weeks, and Ryan will be responsible for crafting the official Republican alternative in the House. His remarks suggest that Republicans have no intention of backing off the spending cuts of which they've spoken for their first few months on the job.
The speech fit with the theme of austerity and belt-tightening that House Republicans have sought to project since formally taking control of the chamber earlier this month. Ryan pointed to the cuts to Congress's own budget — the GOP's first official vote — as an example of his party having followed through on its promises.
Ryan also emphasized that spending cuts would have to precede any vote in Congress to raise the debt limit, the legal amount the United States can borrow to finance its deficit.
"We believe the days of business as usual must come to an end," he said. "We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first.”
"We need to reclaim our American system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money, which has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity," Ryan said. "That’s the real secret to job creation – not borrowing and spending more money in Washington. Limited government and free enterprise have helped make America the greatest nation on earth.”
This story was first posted at 6:58 and was updated at 8:51 a.m.