ROTHSCHILD, Wis. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told Wisconsin Republicans at the state party convention Saturday that they must capitalize politically on the implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, offering those who become frustrated a better alternative.
Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, said as the law goes into effect, health insurance costs for individuals and businesses will skyrocket, employers will drop coverage for workers and Republicans need to be there to attract those angry about it.
“The nation is watching. The broken promises are being realized in front of their eyes and in their daily lives,” Ryan said to about 1,000 people attending the meeting at the Patriot Center in Rothschild, near Wausau. “This is the moment that we have to offer them real hope and give them real alternatives.”
New health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, are supposed to be open for enrollment by Oct. 1 and operating in earnest by Jan. 1. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said it will meet those deadlines, but even supporters of the health care overhaul acknowledge that the dates may be too ambitious.
Ryan said he had a “hard time believing” the Obama administration would have the exchanges working on time, saying they haven’t shown how they’re going to do it.
“Businesses don’t know how to comply,” Ryan told reporters after his speech. “State’s don’t know what’s going on.”
In a statement, Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents have already benefited from health care reform and farmers will also have better access to affordable health care because of it.
“Whether Paul Ryan likes it or not, Obamacare is the law of the land,” he said.
Ryan and other Republican office holders and party leaders used the annual convention both to tout the party’s successes and reflect on reasons for their defeats last year.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, the former Wisconsin state party chairman, said state leaders like Gov. Scott Walker were providing a road map for others nationwide.
“We want to do what Wisconsin does all across the country,” he told reporters after his speech.
Ryan also praised Walker, saying he won last year’s recall election because voters rewarded him for delivering on his promises. The recall was triggered by anger over Walker’s proposal that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers.
Both Ryan and Walker have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates in 2016, but neither has said whether they’ll run. The topic wasn’t discussed Saturday.
Walker used his speech to tout his legislative agenda, including expansion of private school vouchers, an income tax cut, and changes to Medicaid that would make it more difficult to qualify for benefits. He also urged Republicans to stick to the party’s core beliefs of shrinking government and making people more self-sufficient.
Ryan and Priebus said Republicans had opportunities to grow the party and should take advantage of them.
“This is not a time to sulk, this is not a time to sink,” Ryan said in his speech. “This is not a time to drown your sorrows. This is a time to take stock, figure out what it is we need to improve on.”
Obama won Wisconsin, despite the GOP’s addition of Ryan, extending a Republican presidential losing streak in the state to 24 years. Democrat Tammy Baldwin also won an open U.S. Senate seat, beating former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
The Walker recall victory was the biggest win for Republicans in Wisconsin last year. They also regained control of the state Senate after briefly losing it following a second round of recall elections, and increased their majority in the Assembly.
“What you have today in Wisconsin is a new Senate majority that has established itself from the ashes and ruins of chaos to become a beacon of the Republican Party not just here but nationwide,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Priebus said Republicans won’t waiver on their principles, but they need to be a more inclusive party. Wisconsin Republicans working to attract Hispanics, African-Americans and young people also promised to make gains.
“We have the right message,” said the Rev. Joe Medina, who is leading the party’s effort to connect with Hispanics.
But the difficulty of immigration reform was on display, with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner calling for rejection of a bipartisan reform package being discussed in Congress that Ryan supports.
Sensenbrenner said the plan offers amnesty to those here without legal documentation and it was unfair to those who have applied to become citizens legally.
Ryan, who spoke in support of immigration reform at town hall meetings across Wisconsin last week, told reporters that he disagreed with Sensenbrenner’s claim that the proposal offers amnesty.
“We have a broken immigration system,” Ryan said. “It’s not working.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)