Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday criticized the Massachusetts healthcare program critics have named "RomneyCare."
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a leading GOP voice on fiscal matters, said that while he has not studied in depth the effects of the program — instituted by then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) — it is having an adverse impact on the Massachusetts healthcare system.
Ryan is the third major Republican to recently criticize the healthcare reforms passed by Romney, who is a likely Republican presidential candidate.
Mississipi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), another potential candidate, said this week that "RomneyCare" would be detrimental to most states, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), yet another possible candidate, described the program as "socialized medicine" in his forthcoming book.
The string of comments are a sign that Romney's opponents will continue to pepper him with jabs over his healthcare plan, should he officially enter the race. President Obama went out of his way to praise the program on Monday.
Romney has offered varying explanations for the program, saying that if he could, he might changed some elements of the plan. His spokesman has also said the former governor is proud for having made an attempt at healthcare reform.
Ryan's endorsement could be an important one in the 2012 presidential race. His home state became a battleground in 2010, with Republicans taking the governorship, a Senate seat and the majority of House seats in the 2010 midterms. The budget battle in Wisconsin has also positioned the state as a hotbed for budget and spending issues, which will loom large on the campaign trail.
As for whom he might endorse, Ryan said he has not made up his mind, but he said the eventual nominee must have a substantial understanding of major issues.
"To me, what matters most is somebody that really has conviction in their heart and their mind on these core principles," he said. "We can't just give it to, you know, the next person in line or a personality contest. We will lose a personality contest. We will win an ideas contest."
Ryan said he has spoken to a wide range of candidates, and in the past two weeks, he said he has met with Barbour, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
"We've got a lot of innovative governors out there, and my assumption is a lot of them will throw their hat into the ring," he said.
Speculation that Ryan could seek the vice presidential nomination has been in the air for several months. Ryan did not rule out accepting the nomination if it is offered to him, but he did tamp down expectations that he could.
"You know, I'll think about that when it's time to think about that," he said. "I want to get this budget right. I want to get 2011 right, which is we owe the country a choice of alternatives, and that's what my total focus is."
Pressed if he would rule out a presidential run in the terms of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who said he would have to commit suicide to convince people he is not running, Ryan said he prefers his current position.
"I wouldn't talk in suicidal terms," when it comes to ruling out a presidential run, he said. "I feel like I can do more for the country and the cause where I am right now.
"Like I tell people, my head is not that big and my kids are too small," he continued. "My kids are 6, 7 and 9. I want to be in their lives."