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Paul Ryan: GOP presidential candidates will fully back proposed budget

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Ryan unveils his proposal Tuesday (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan on Tuesday morning said he expects his party's presidential candidates to "absolutely" back his 2013 budget plan—which Democrats are already contesting over its proposed changes to Medicare.

"Our nominee owes it to the country to give them a choice of two futures, we're helping complete that," the Wisconsin Republican said during a question and answer session with reporters following a press conference unveiling the proposal in Washington. He was flanked by 15 Republican colleagues, each clutching a copy of Ryan's budget (titled "Path to Prosperity").

Ryan rejected the suggestion that his budget—which proposes partial privatization of Medicare—could be "detrimental" to the eventual GOP nominee and said he's certain the candidates will fully back his budget.

"Absolutely. I'm confident of that," Ryan said.

Mitt Romney was the first candidate to step forward Tuesday to express full-throated support for Ryan's plan, issuing a statement that generally touted the proposal's tax reform and spending language, as well its Medicare provisions:

"The House Republican budget rejects the out-of-control spending and higher taxes proposed by President Obama in his budget last month. By proposing prescriptions that will strengthen Medicare for generations to come, it also highlights President Obama's failed leadership on entitlement reform."

Rick Santorum was less strident, saying on Glenn Beck's radio show Tuesday morning that Ryan's budget is "headed in the right direction," and reaffirmed his support for the Medicare reforms similarly laid out last year. But Santorum disagreed with the plan's timeline for entitlement reform and to balance the budget.

Ron Paul, a staunch fiscal conservative who is running significantly behind his 2012 opponents, earlier in the day argued in a statement that Ryan's proposal didn't go far enough:

"The House GOP's budget proposal does not balance the budget until the year 2040, and it adds billions to our already exploding deficits. In fact, this budget doesn't actually 'cut' any spending. It only reduces assumed increases in spending—essentially playing the same game the Washington establishment has played for years with our hard-earned money."

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Paul is a staunch opponent of entitlement programs.

Newt Gingrich also express strong support, saying on Fox News radio's "Kilmeade & Friends" that Ryan is "courageous"

"He's essentially right and the gap between him and Barack Obama is all that you need to know about why you want to beat Obama," Gingrich said. "I mean Paul Ryan represents a serious adult effort to get back to a balanced budget and save our children and grandchildren from drowning in debt."

Last May, Ryan's 2012 budget—which also included provisions calling for the privatization of Medicare—caused problems for Gingrich. Gingrich immediately blasted the budget as "right-wing social engineering," "radical change" and "too big a jump" related to the privatization of Medicare.

But after taking heat from Republicans over those comments, Gingrich walked them back and apologized to Ryan, saying he incorrectly chose his words.

Overall, Democrats gained traction in 2011 by claiming Republicans wanted to "end Medicare as we know it"—citing Ryan's proposed budget. The issue became fodder for special elections, and a memorable attack video depicting Republicans pushing "grandma" off a cliff in a wheelchair was released as the Democratic Party cheered the opportunity to present itself as the protector of Medicare.

Democrats hope to gain traction on Medicare again in the 2012 contests—but many more seats, and the presidency, are at stake. On Tuesday, Democrats were already using the same language from 2011.

"Instead of strengthening Medicare, the House budget would end Medicare as we know it, turning the guarantee of retirement security into a voucher that will shift higher and higher costs to seniors over time," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement released while Ryan was officially unveiling his proposal.

"The Republican proposal would end the Medicare guarantee, shift costs to seniors, and let Medicare wither on the vine, while providing billions in tax breaks for Big Oil and special interests, and destroying American jobs," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday.

Ryan said Tuesday that he remained confident in his and the GOP's ability to fight off Democratic attacks on the Medicare provision and turned the issue back on the White House. "If we simply operate based on political fear, nothing's ever going to get done," Ryan said. He later added, "Medicare under the president's law is going bankrupt."

Ryan and his supporters Tuesday positioned their proposal as the only path forward to save Medicare and empower its beneficiaries by inserting competition and choice into the process. Ryan's proposal—which does not apply to those at or near retirement age—would allow Americans to choose between traditional Medicare or a private plan. Ryan already secured support across the aisle from Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon on the "premium-support" private plan side of the provision.

Republicans focused on the plan's fiscal highlights Tuesday, which include major changes designed to reduce spending and the deficit, including eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, reducing the current six individual tax brackets to two—10 percent and 25 percent—and lowering the highest corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

[Related: Highlights of Congressional Republican budget plan]

The plan also calls to a repeal of the GOP bugaboo "Obamacare,"and spending cuts to America's food stamp program, welfare reform, to agriculture crop insurance. It also calls on federal workers to stop relying on private citizens to shoulder the financial burden of their pension system.

Overall, the budget calls for a $1.028 trillion spending level for discretionary programs. That level is below the level members of both parties in Congress agreed on for 2013: $1.047 trillion.

Ryan's budget has little chance of passage in Congress. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already confirmed the bill will not advance in the Senate. And it remains unclear if conservatives in either chamber will sign on.

The fiscally conservative Club for Growth last week expressed concern that Ryan's plan does not seek to balance the budget. "The Club for Growth is strongly concerned that any budget that does not balance within this reasonable timeframe is simply an exercise in futility," president Chris Chocola said in a statement.

Update 4:15pm ET: This story was updated to include budget statements from the Republican presidential candidates.

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