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Obama vs. Paul Ryan: five ways their debt plans differ

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A cashier checks out a customer who is using a SNAP card at Tesoro Supermarket in Framingham, Mass., on Oct. 19, 2010.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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3. The federal safety net

The House Republican view in Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget focuses on smaller government, individual responsibility, and the argument that the resulting prosperity will help Americans in general be better off. The Ryan plan doesn't eliminate the safety net but has no qualms about cutting its size. Example: The House budget document calls for restructuring the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

"The cost of this program has exploded in the last decade, from less than $18 billion in 2001 to over $80 billion today," the plan says. The recession is one big reason, but Republicans say it's also that states lack incentives to make sure that able-bodied adults on food stamps are working, looking for work, or enrolled in job training.

Obama pointedly argued for a different view. While lauding America's ethos of self-reliance, he added that "the America I know is generous and compassionate." He argued that "we would not be a great country" without government programs designed to help ensure the well-being of seniors, children, and lower-income citizens.

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