Before a crowd of students last Friday morning at Carroll University, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) described the country's current economic state with the word "uncertainty."
"Nobody knows what's going to happen," Ryan told the crowd of about 350 inside an auditorium at the Shattuck Music Center in his speech "Expanding Opportunity for Young Americans." "Nobody knows what interest rates are going to be, what taxes are going to be, what the government's going to do next. And if nobody in the economy knows this, then nobody's really going to have the confidence to invest and create jobs.
"We're kind of on a vicious cycle of debt and deficits and slow growth and joblessness and compounding problems."
The congressman and former vice presidential nominee offered a bleak picture on the nation's healthcare system and debt situation.
He said the country's debt is $17 trillion, and "it's going to go to $27 trillion by the end of the decade if we stay on the path we're on."
"It's like an hourglass, and the sand is going down," Ryan said. "Every year you delay, we're flirting with disaster."
In his speech, Ryan addressed the issue of what he said are soon-to-be broken entitlement programs. He said America has found itself in this situation because there aren't enough workers to help pay for these programs as baby boomers begin to retire.
"The promises that our government made, we don't have the ability to fulfill them right now," Ryan said. "In so many ways our government is not being honest with us. Social Security, probably the most important program in federal government, it's done so much for so many people. The problem is, like Medicare and Medicaid, both are going bankrupt."
Ryan was introduced to the crowd by local attorney and Waukesha County Republican Party Chairman John Macy.
"He's much different than the press portrays him to be," Macy said. "I just want everyone to hear the whole story."
While Ryan drew up an uncertain future, his speech also included his solution.
Responding to a question from a student on how to fix the economy, Ryan said the tax code should be cleaned up by lowering tax rates and getting rid of tax loopholes, tapping into the nation's own energy resources and reforming entitlement programs "before they go bankrupt."
"We don't want some government bureaucracy telling us how to live our life, how to run our life, how to make independent decisions like health care," Ryan said. "Do these things and that will put a jolt into our economy so when you graduate you come into an economy with opportunities, with jobs."
Scott Ellis of Wales, a graduate of Kettle Moraine High School, was at Carroll as a campus director for American Majority (an organizing group for conservatives). He likes Ryan's approach.
"I think it was just the reinforcement of his typical points of fiscal responsibility, putting our country on a different path as opposed to what we are on now," said Ellis, who recently graduated from Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois. "It's always kind of a wakeup call. We have to get involved in our government and hold them accountable for changes that are being made. So I'm a fan of him for wanting to take responsibility whether it's on the budget entitlements or immigration."
Ryan made it clear that he opposes President Barack Obama's healthcare law and policies from the current administration. But he added that working together on the issues is the best practice.
"In this country it doesn't have to be Republicans against Democrats and conservatives against liberals," Ryan said. "It's got to be what are the facts. Let's tackle these problems; let's get ahead of them before they tackle us. That is what your generation and my generation are tackling."
In an answer to Carroll University graduate student Samantha Staskiewicz's question about what can be done to get the younger generation more politically involved, Ryan said the answer is having a limited government.
"Our government has grown so much and has gotten into so many areas of our lives and has said to people you don't have to be responsible for this or that," said Ryan, who also touched on his way to reform the immigration law. "Government will handle it. And I think it has spread apathy. I think we have to have government respect its limits and that doesn't mean we should have no government. Far from it.
"I think we should have a limited government so what it does, it does well and efficiently and effectively. There are important roles for government and in order for it to do a good job it must respect its limits so that those of us have the freedoms and ability to do other things, get involved and not being apathetic. I think that's one of the casualties of this big government, this progressive vision that's occurring right now.
Staskiewicz, a pre-med student and Catholic Memorial High School graduate, said she sees a lack of engagement in young people.
"It's disheartening," she said, adding that you don't have to pick a side "but you need to stand for something, otherwise you're going to fall for everything."
She said it's hard not to be influenced by others, including her parents.
"But it's one of those things where you need to form your own opinion," she said. "That's what college is all about and coming and listening to speakers even if you're not of that political (group). You certainly gain a lot of knowledge."