08/11/2012 09:40 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Choosing Paul Ryan Ensures a Focus on the Big Issue: The Fiscal Cliff

Paul Ryan is the right choice for Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan in the essential choice for the times.

If you get the big things right, the small things will fall in line. In selecting Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a big and bold decision that ensures that for the rest of this pivotal campaign, we will be talking about the big issue: How to set our nation's finances aright to ensure America remains a place where our children and our grandchildren can fulfill their dreams and continues as the country able to marshal the world to tackle our most pressing challenges from a position of strength.

As I have been counseling for some time, Romney must keep a razor-sharp focus on the economy to win. A breakout opportunity existed for the candidate willing to commit to make his first priority addressing the fiscal cliff: the most significant factor depressing economic activity.

During the 13 years I have known Paul Ryan, I have not heard him talk seriously about anything other than the economy, and every fiber in his body is dedicated to pressing America to make the tough decisions necessary for his young children's generation to enjoy the same opportunities in life that his generation enjoyed.

I have long advocated Governor Tim Pawlenty as someone with a proven track record of enacting fiscally responsible legislation. Paul Ryan has an equally impeccable record on this score. For more than a decade, the U.S. Senate rarely has put forth any budget. In contrast, the Republican majority in the U.S. House has consistently put forth a budget -- one that was directly correct but constrained in its ambition by competing priorities. Yet, year after year, Paul Ryan has been offering a budget that called for the difficult decisions necessary to balance the budget.

Fiscal responsibility is now being forced on Europe and will be forced on America unless we take the bull by the horns in the months ahead. No one has devoted more effort to finding the best path for America to move beyond posturing to authentically meeting our many priorities than Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama agree on one thing. In his address on health care to a joint session of Congress, Obama said, "Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close." Paul Ryan not only believes this is true -- he has acted as if it was true. Indeed, he is a lightning rod because he has had the courage to go beyond rhetoric to present authentic proposals to address this reality.

Early in the presidential primaries, many seasoned political operatives said there was no way Romney could win because he lacked clarity of contrast with Obama on the dominant issue of the day: health care. Comments by Romney staffers Andrea Saul and Eric Fehrnstrom have further muddled this contrast. With his vice president choice, Romney has clarified his position on this fundamental issue.

Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan will definitely energize conservatives. While Paul Ryan's policy prescriptions will indeed spark debate, his intelligent, youthful energy and boldness will attract many moderates. If Romney truly embraces Ryan as part of his ticket, it will increase his likelihood of winning. Yet, whether or not Romney wins, his choice is a win for America. Finally, we will be talking about the big issues, not petty politics. It is only by addressing these big issues that we can keep the American Dream alive for future generations and keep America the world's most essential nation.

Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).