08/11/2012 12:22 EDT | Updated 10/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Romney taps budget-slasher Paul Ryan as running mate in hotly anticipated choice

WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney made a potentially risky pick for running mate on Saturday, tapping a Wisconsin congressman whose controversial proposals to reduce Medicare costs could cause the Republican presidential hopeful at least some headaches on the campaign trail.

Dubbing their ticket "America's Comeback Team," Romney unveiled Paul Ryan on Saturday, pledging that together they will "offer solutions that are bold, specific, and achievable."

He announced his hotly anticipated pick in the critical swing state of Virginia, flubbing the introduction when he introduced Ryan as "the next president of the United States." The announcement was made in Norfolk, Va. aboard the Second World War-era battleship USS Wisconsin.

Romney realized his mistake, laughing while throwing his arm around Ryan to add: "I didn't make a mistake with this guy."

Ryan, a 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman who's the head of the House of Representatives budget committee, is best known in the United States for tough cost-cutting proposals that include dramatic spending cuts and the restructuring of beloved entitlement programs -- in particular, Medicare, government-funded health care for Americans over 65.

Newt Gingrich, the onetime Republican candidate, once described Ryan's Medicare proposals as radical "right-wing social engineering."

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called the plan "a recklessly bold, 73-page, 10-year budget plan. At 37 footnotes, it might be the most annotated suicide note in history."

Romney didn't duck the Medicare issue as he welcomed Ryan to the ticket.

"We will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security and keep them there for future generations," Romney said. "Unlike the current president, who's cut Medicare funding by $700 billion."

He described his No. 2 as "an intellectual leader of the Republican party," adding his "character and values" are appreciated by both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Ryan, for his part, pledged that he and Romney "won't duck the tough issues."

"We can turn this thing around," he said. "Real solutions can be delivered. But, it will take leadership. And the courage to tell you the truth."

One Republican observer said Romney made a smart choice.

"I am thrilled by this pick as I think anyone from the policies and ideas wing of the conservative movement is," said Fergus Cullen, a strategist and onetime head of the New Hampshire Republican party.

"He's not well known, but I think Americans are going to like what they see and what they hear as he gets onto the national political stage."

Ryan's choice will mute any far-right Tea Party Republicans who wanted to see Romney tap someone serious about reducing the mammoth national debt, Fergus added, but at the same time he's a respected lawmaker whom Barack Obama won't be able to portray as a loose cannon.

The choice of running mate had weighed heavily on the Republican establishment for four years in the aftermath of John McCain's ill-fated pick of Sarah Palin in an attempt to add a "game-changer" to the mix. Instead, she was viewed as a disastrous choice who helped seal McCain's fate in November 2008.

With Romney closer in the polls to Obama than McCain was four years ago, the famously risk-averse millionaire fended off calls for those among the Republican establishment to make a daring choice and opt for someone like Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American junior senator from Florida.

Instead, after a painstaking vetting process, Ryan got the nod.

"This choice will keep the focus on fiscal restraint, and I have never seen the public as receptive to having those kinds of conversations as it is now," Cullen said.

"The most important element of the pick is how it reflects on the candidate's judgment, which was a huge problem for McCain ... Romney's pick, on the other hand, says good things about his judgment."

Not surprisingly, Democrats attacked the choice.

"The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education," Jim Messina, a spokesman for Obama's re-election team, said in a statement.

"His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."

Ryan, a seven-term congressman with three children, said Saturday that he and Romney will "take responsibility" for the challenges facing the United States.

He criticized Obama for presiding over "worst economic recovery in 70 years."

"Whatever the explanations, whatever the excuses, this is a record of failure," Ryan said.

"President Obama and too many like him in Washington have refused to make difficult decisions because they are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation. We might have been able to get away with that before, but not now. We're in a different and dangerous moment."

He added the Republican ticket offers an alternative to the "diminished dreams, lowered expectations, uncertain futures."

He also touted his legislative experience.

"I believe my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Gov. Romney's executive and private sector success outside Washington."

The pair, indeed, framed themselves as a substantive ticket that can bring America back from the brink of economic disaster.

"I'm excited for what lies ahead and I'm thrilled to be a part of America's Comeback Team," Ryan said. "And together, we will unite America and get this done."