By Justin Sink
Paul Ryan lamented the problem of government dependency at a town-hall meeting Tuesday, but he avoided direct discussion of running mate Mitt Romney's controversial comment about the "47 percent" of Americans who "believe they are victims."
The Republican vice presidential candidate made the comments during a general discussion of President Obama's economic record, which he lamented for "not creating the type of economic growth" needed to transition more people into the middle class.
"This is what Mitt and I are talking about when we’re worried about more and more people becoming net dependent upon the government than upon themselves," Ryan said. "Because by promoting more dependency, but not having jobs and economic growth, people miss their potential. We should not be measuring the progress of our social programs, of programs like food stamps based up on how many people receive them; we should be measuring them by how many people we transition off of them."
"Our mission is to address the root causes of poverty instead of simply treating the symptoms of poverty," he added.
And Ryan said government should look to lift individuals out of poverty, rather than enable them to remain trapped within it.
"We should look at every single person in this country as people who are on their way to opportunity and ask what we can do to help," Ryan said.
Ryan was speaking at a town-hall meeting in Dover, N.H., at the first public Romney campaign event since a secretly recorded video was released by Mother Jones Monday afternoon.
In the video, made earlier this summer at a fundraising dinner, Romney says supporters of the president believe that "the government has a responsibility to care for them" and says his "job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Later Monday, Romney held an impromptu press conference where he stuck by his message but said it was “not elegantly stated” and spoken “off the cuff.”
He told reporters he was talking about campaign strategy, “not his vision for the country.” But Romney stood by the spirit of his comments, saying they represented “the same message I give to people” in public.
At the event in New Hampshire, Ryan looked instead to focus the discussion on government debt, taking the stage next to a rolling debt clock.
"That's not a scoreboard, that's our national debt," Ryan said. "The day President Obama was inaugurated, your share, for every man woman and child, was $35,000. Today it is $51,000. That's an increase of 45 percent."
The Obama campaign used Ryan's critique of the debt to get in a swipe at Romney's "47 percent" comment.
"Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan refuse to ask for a dime from the wealthiest Americans to reduce the deficit," said Obama spokesman Danny Kanner in a statement. "Instead, he would cut taxes for the wealthiest by raising taxes on the hard-working Americans — including veterans, students, seniors, and middle-class families — who Mitt Romney believes view themselves as ‘victims,’ entitled to handouts, and unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives. But that’s not a plan to strengthen the middle class that Mitt Romney appears to disdain — it’s the same failed scheme that crashed our economy, exploded our deficits, and devastated the middle class in the first place.”
Ryan fielded questions from around a half-dozen supporters at the meeting. Supporters encouraged Ryan to "take the gloves off" and wished him luck against a "horrendous" liberal media bias and "persecution."
Ryan reliably parlayed those sentiments back into critiques of Obama, at one point suggesting that the administration's mandate that employers provide free access to contraception constituted a violation of the First Amendment.
"President Obama did this very controversial, constitutionally questionable — I think it's unconstitutional — [thing] in an election year," Ryan said. "Imagine what he'd do if elected again and never has to face a voter again."