WASHINGTON — Paul Ryan, the congressman giving the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address tonight, is a rising star in GOP ranks who has become the party spokesman on budgetary issues because of his expertise and relentless pursuit of spending cuts.
The fifth-generation Wisconsin native, who marks his 41st birthday this week, enters the new Republican-controlled session of the House as chairman of the Budget Committee and the point man for the GOP drive to reduce the national debt.
Well-spoken and well-liked by House colleagues, Ryan also has drawn the ire of Democrats and liberal groups because, unlike other Republicans who leave out the details in how they would cut federal spending, Ryan has never been afraid to be specific.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, applauded Republicans for picking Ryan, saying that unlike GOP leaders who have "been vague about what programs they want to cut, Congressman Ryan has been very clear." He added that Ryan's ideas on squeezing savings from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs were "a very wrong approach to take."
Ryan was the youngest member of the freshman class when he was elected to Congress in 1998 at the age of 28 and is now serving in his seventh term. Former President George W. Bush asked Ryan to be his White House budget director in his second term, but Ryan declined.