Ryan blasts Obama in first major social-issues speech

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Friday, Sept. 14, 2012.
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Friday, Sept. 14, 2012.
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
(CBS News) WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Friday offered a harsh indictment of President Obama's values and leadership, arguing in a speech to the Values Voter Summit that his opponent is bent on expanding the size of government to usurp the power of religious organizations in America.

Making an explicit appeal to Catholic opponents of abortion rights, Ryan cited the controversial executive order from the White House earlier this year that required religiously-affiliated organizations to provide employees with insurance plans that include birth control.

"In the president's telling, government is a big, benevolent presence - gently guiding our steps at every turn," Ryan said. "In reality, when government enters the picture, private institutions are so often brushed aside with suspicion or even contempt. This is what happened to the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities this past January, when the new mandates of Obamacare started coming. Never mind your own conscience, they were basically told, from now on you're going to do things the government's way."

Ryan echoed GOP nominee Mitt Romney in calling the mandate "a threat and insult to every religious group," arguing that the Catholic Church and its affiliated charities have done more for women and children than almost any other group in America. His pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act drew a loud standing ovation, one of several in his 25-minute speech.

The Obama campaign fired back by noting that Ryan's budget has drawn heavy criticism from some Catholics for proposing to cut funds for programs that help the poor.

"Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate because he's the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. That leadership included a budget that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said failed a 'basic moral test,''' said Obama spokesman Danny Kanner. "Today, speaking at a values summit, he unleashed a series of over-the-top, dishonest attacks against the President that once again reminded voters that he's just not ready for prime time."

Ryan, himself a Catholic, represents the Republican ticket's best messenger to the community that gave a majority of its vote, 54 percent, to Obama in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. The president did several points better than the two Democrats who preceded him, in large part due to his support among Hispanic Catholics.

The speech represented Ryan's first major foray into faith or social issues during a vice presidential campaign address. He painted the president as a hypocrite for telling Americans they are "all in this together."

"How hollow it sounds coming from a politician who has never once lifted a hand to defend the most helpless andinnocent of all human beings, the child waiting to be born," he said.

After saying that Obama constantly trades on former President Clinton's record, Ryan sought to make a distinction between the two. While Clinton sought to make abortion "safe, legal and rare, Ryan said, "The Obama-Biden ticket stands for an absolute, unqualified right to abortion - at any time, under any circumstances, and even at taxpayer expense."

During the health care debate, Obama signed an executive order reaffirming a ban on using federal funds to pay for abortions. But taxpayer money can still be used for abortions through the Medicaid program if the life of the mother is in danger or if rape or incest caused the pregnancy. He has also backed the federal ban on late-term abortions if there are clear exceptions for the health of the mother.

Ryan also touched on foreign policy, a topic at the forefront of the news cycle after attacks against American diplomats in the Middle East. He suggested that a lack of leadership and consistent expression of American values has contributed to unrest in the region.

"The least equivocation or mixed signal only makes them bolder," Ryan said of the people who carried out attacks in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, whom he labeled "extremists. "

"American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose. Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome. That is how we keep problems abroad from becoming crises," he said.

Ryan was twice interrupted by hecklers who briefly shouted at him before being drowned out by the audience chanting "USA! USA!" At least one was forcefully removed from the speech.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.