Ryan: GOP won't be sidetracked by social issues

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on "CBS This Morning," Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012.

The Republican chair of the House Budget Committee said Tuesday he does not believe social issues will "sidetrack" the GOP candidates' presidential campaigns, or that recent economic improvements would benefit President Obama.

When asked on "CBS This Morning" if the recent emphasis on social issues (particularly by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich) was "troubling" for the Republican Party, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said no, and blamed the media and, perhaps, Democrats for trying 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 told Charlie Rose. "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.

"There are issues that arise that must be discussed, like the president's new mandate that affects Catholic churches and Catholic hospitals and things like that, but by and large, this is going to be about economic issues, I think," Ryan said.

Rose asked Ryan about the auto bailout, which has particular resonance in Michigan, site of Tuesday's Republican primary. "Should that be an issue? And should the voters look at [critics] of the bailout and say, 'We had an economic bailout of the auto companies and look what happened? Profits are up and they're both doing well'?" Rose asked.

"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 also said both of the leading GOP candidates had good fiscal plans. "I think Romney came out with a great tax plan just the other day at Ford Field on Friday. I think that was a really excellent, pro-growth tax plan. Both of them have been talking about fundamental entitlement reform, which is critical to getting this debt crisis averted, to making sure that we can keep promises to seniors. I think what matters is, are they going to do the right thing to get the economy growing, and get this debt crisis averted?

"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 a while - 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."

Rose asked Ryan if he believed the economy is improving - and if that is good news for President Obama?

"I mean, it's good news for Americans, first of all - let's not read politics into all of these things," Ryan said. "But what we've also seen is a lot of people are leaving the work force, they're not even trying to find jobs any more. 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 do.

"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."

To watch the complete interview with Paul Ryan click on the video player above.