Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee who professes to be more about policy than politics, revealed his inner wonk Saturday at an Orlando town hall meeting that included a PowerPoint presentation about the nation's debt crisis.
At a time when Democrats have criticized Mitt Romney's presidential campaign for not delivering enough specifics about their policy proposals, Ryan commanded a packed gymnasium of 2,000 people and fielded questions that ranged from foreign policy to health care.
This was the Wisconsin lawmaker's third town hall forum since the GOP presidential nominee selected him to join him on the party's ticket. Ryan told the audience he wanted to have a "two-way conversation," like the 500 or so listening sessions he has held in his district since he first got elected 14 years ago to serve the Badger State in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But before the question and answer portion of Saturday's event, Ryan used two large projector screens to illustrate the federal government's ever-increasing debt.
"I'm kind of a PowerPoint guy, so I hope you'll bear with me," he said.
Ryan used a graph to show that by 2040, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the United States will owe nearly 250% of the gross domestic product or the entire American economy. The current percentage is still lower today than it was during World War II, but the audience gasped when they saw the percentage spike from 2012 to 2040.
"The reason we just end this chart there is because the Congressional Budget Office tells us the economy effectively crashes at that point," he said. "This is the most predictable crisis we have ever had in this country.
"And more to the point, we know why it's happening, we know when it's happening, and we have a president who has literally not only done nothing... but made it worse. We need a new president. We need a president who will take on this challenge, who will lead and do something about this."
Ryan also said the debt problem was a national security concern.
Foreigners or foreign government owned 6% of the U.S. debt in 1970, he said, compared to 19% by 1990. And as of this past July, the lawmaker added, 48% of the debt is owned by foreign governments - with China top among them.
"We are now relying on other governments to basically cash-flow our government," Ryan said. "And when you rely on other countries to lend you their money to run your country, you lose your sovereignty. You lose control. You lose your independence. We have to get this under control, because this is harming our nation's sovereignty."
Romney's youngest son, Craig, appeared at the town hall held at the University of Central Florida. Craig Romney said that when he first met Ryan, he was impressed the Wisconsin legislator had a "grasp of the issues" and by his ability to simply and effectively talk about complicated topics.
The vice presidential hopeful was asked to address "the death panels we're going to have" as a result of Obamacare, which was a term used in 2009 by former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to describe the Independent Payment Advisory Board that was established under the federal Affordable Care Act to find savings in Medicare.
The "death panel" moniker was debunked years ago, and Ryan tried to distance himself from Palin's description of the same group he continues to ridicule when he is on the stump.
"Well, that's not the word I'd choose to use to describe it," Ryan explained, before going onto explain why the board takes away choices for seniors.
"And so what Obamacare does is it says, 'No we're going to have price controls, and we're going to empower this board of 15 people that the president appoints - six-year terms, they can get renewed once -- and the law says none of them have to have any medical training. And these 15 bureaucrats that President Obama appoints, their job each and every year is to cut Medicare payments to providers."
Ryan expressed concern that politicians won't be held accountable with the board in place.
"This politician's going to say, let me get this straight, the law requires that I've got to cut Medicare to providers, denying access to my constituents, but if I don't do that, and do nothing, this board of bureaucrats will do it and I never have to vote on it and it just happens automatically? Let the bureaucrats do it," Ryan said.
While campaigning near Florida's space coast, Ryan added additional elements to his stump speech: describing the U.S. space program as "a strategic national asset to America." But Obama, he said, has weakened the program.
"We have presided over a dismantling of the space program over the last four years," he said of Obama's administration. "He has put the space program on a path where we are conceding our global position as the unequivocal leader in space.
"Today, if we want to send an astronaut to the space station, we have to pay the Russians to take him there. China may one day looking down on us from the moon," he continued, eliciting boos from the audience.
Earlier on Saturday, the Romney-Ryan campaign announced an outline of four space-related priorities they would pursue if elected.
The GOP ticket says it would refocus NASA, providing it with "practical and sustainable missions" rather than increasing funding. The agency said it spent over $18.4 billion dollars in fiscal year 2011, though its 2013 funding request was slightly lower -- about $17.8 billion.
A key focus of the program would be contributing to national security efforts.
"Space-based information capabilities are the central nervous system of the U.S. national security community," the document released by the campaign read. "If America is to remain strong as a nation, the national security space programs must remain strong and sustainable."