WASHINGTON - Rep. Paul Ryan said Saturday that Republicans need to stick together and pick their fights during President Barack Obama's second term, rejecting some White House proposals outright and trying to infuse others with conservative principles.
In a speech to conservatives, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee said Obama would attempt to divide Republicans but that the party must avoid internal squabbles as it seeks to rebound from a second straight presidential loss.
"We can't get rattled. We won't play the villain in his morality plays. We have to stay united," Ryan said at the National Review Institute event. "We have to show that if given the chance, we can govern. We have better ideas."
The Wisconsin congressman outlined a pragmatic approach for a party dealing with last November's election defeats and trying to determine whether to oppose Obama's agenda at every turn or shape his proposals with conservative principles.
With a surging minority population altering the electorate, Republican leaders have discussed the need to attract more women and Hispanics while at the same time standing firm to the values that unite conservatives.
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The party's future was a major theme during the three-day meeting of conservatives activists, who expected to hear from Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Ryan rejected the notion that Republicans were "in the wilderness," noting that the party controls the House and most statehouses. But he said Obama's victory over Mitt Romney meant that Republicans would need to recalibrate their approach to deal with the new political realities.
"If we want to promote conservatism, we'll need to use every tool at our disposal," Ryan said. "Sometimes, we will have to reject the president's proposals — that time may come more than once. And sometimes we'll have to make them better." He said Republicans should have two main goals for the next four years, namely "to mitigate bad policies" and "to advance good policy wherever we can."
Ryan acknowledged that "we all didn't see eye to eye" on the recent "fiscal cliff" vote to deal with a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes that were set to take effect at the start of the year. He defended his support for the bill, saying it was the only way to avoid sweeping tax increases and prevent the economy from going into a free-fall.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan said Republicans needed to guard against a debt crisis for the country that would undermine the economy. He said he would promote changes to Medicare and Medicaid and would propose a budget "that will balance and pay down the debt."
But November's election results still linger. Ryan said he was "disappointed" by the outcome, saying he was "looking forward to taking on the big challenges" while living at the vice president's residence. "My kids were looking forward to having a pool," he joked.