Paul Ryan: GOP candidates won't be sidetracked by social issues

Asked by CBS "This Morning" host Charlie Rose if the recent focus on social issues in the GOP race was "troubling," Ryan said that he was not concerned about attempts from "the media and maybe the Democrats to move it in that direction."

"I think what these candidates are mostly talking about are the fiscal issues, the economic issues and the choice of two futures that the country's going to have to make in the fall," Ryan said. "When it all comes down to it, I think, we're going to be really talking about the economic issues which are the driving issues of the front of the minds of the American people. So I don't think we're going to have a sidetrack into social issues."

Ryan admitted that there were social issues that "must be discussed, like the president's new mandate that affects Catholic churches and Catholic hospitals," but said "by and large, this is going to be about economic issues."

An Associated Press poll released Monday showed President Obama posting double-digit gains with women compared to just a month ago. The poll suggested Obama's gains had been fueled by economic improvement and the focus of the political world on the contraception and religious freedom issue. 

Ryan said that while improving economic indicators were "good news for all Americans," he did not think things had improved to the point that it would provide an electoral boost for Democrats.

"What we've also seen is a lot of people are leaving the workforce — they're not even trying to find jobs anymore. We still have 20 million people out of work; we still have huge challenges ahead, Charlie. We have a massive debt that will surely doom our economy in the near future if we don't get it under control. So I don't think we should be taking a big pause when there's so much work yet to do," Ryan said.

"But it's always good when you can see some signs of economic vitality. It tells me that there's a great resiliency in American businesses and small businesses, and imagine how well we can grow if we just got government out of the way."

The Budget Committee chairman was also critical of the Obama administration's auto bailout, a program that has earned headlines of late with GOP candidates campaigning in Michigan. Record profits posted by Detroit automakers have rallied Michigan residents around the plan, providing a boon to Democrats in the state.

"Well, if you give any company tens of billions of dollars and wipe their debt off the books, I would expect them to do well," Ryan said.

"I think it's a big issue in Michigan; I'm not sure that it's a big issue in the rest of the country. In my hometown of Jamesville and Kenosha that I represent, we lost our auto plants. So where we come from in auto country, we don't see them as great success stories because we had plant shutdowns irrespective of those bailouts."

Ryan went on to praise both Mitt Romney's and leading competitor Rick Santorum's economic plans.

"They've been fantastic on spending; they've been fantastic on entitlements; and they're now advancing really good pro-growth economic policies," Ryan said. "So as far as I'm concerned, no matter who emerges from this primary season — which might take awhile — we're going to have a sharp contrast about what it takes to get this country growing and about reclaiming American exceptionalism with the president, and I'm comfortable with the direction that both these campaigns are headed."