The nation faces a crushing burden of debt and is on course for an economic disaster without dramatic action to wrestle the budget deficit under control, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Tuesday in the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

And such spending cuts must start immediately as the price of getting GOP conservatives to cast a painful vote to increase the government’s ability to borrow to pay its bills this spring, Ryan said.

“Our nation is approaching a tipping point. We are at a moment, where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century,” Ryan said in televised remarks.

“The days of business as usual must come to an end. We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first,” Ryan added.

Ryan is the point man in the new House GOP majority’s drive to rein in spending and bring the budget closer to balance. Tuesday’s speech was the highest profile assignment yet for a wonky former congressional staff aide who has evolved into one of his party’s brightest stars.

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