Updated 11:10 pm ET, 11/16/2013
(CNN) - Rep. Paul Ryan made a rousing return to Iowa on Saturday night in a speech that slammed Obamacare and stirred 2016 speculation.
The Wisconsin Republican and former vice presidential nominee was the keynote speaker at a birthday fundraiser for Gov. Terry Branstad in Altoona, Iowa. The appearance was his first in the state that will have the country's first presidential caucus since the 2012 campaign.
"It's nice to be back and to see each and every one of you," Ryan said to a crowd of conservative activists, politicians and donors, recalling the months he and presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent on the ground there. "We didn't quite deliver. But on behalf of Mitt and myself, thank you very much for everything you did."
Ryan, who was accompanied by his wife, Janna, also shared how much the couple and their three children enjoyed their time on the campaign trail, especially in the Hawkeye State.
"When I look back at this campaign and believe me, after this election, it was a tough loss, it was tough for all of us. We were in a funk for a good six months,” he added.
Reflecting on that loss, he argued that if the current problems with President Barack Obama’s signature health care law known as Obamacare were present then, there may have been a different outcome.
“We had to campaign against big government in theory - the rhetoric, the promises, the empty promises, like if you like your (health insurance) you can keep it," he said. "Here’s the difference now. We’ve got big government in practice. And what we are realizing is the results are nothing close to the rhetoric that was used to sell it. I wonder if people who know now what they know would rehire these people again."
"The next time you have a famous politician coming through Iowa, breezing through the towns, talking about big government, let’s be a little more skeptical," he added.
Throughout the nearly 20-minute speech, Ryan offered a mix of policy and 2012 autopsy. But, eventually, his critique of the Obama administration took center stage, and he tore into the Affordable Care Act, warning that it was causing "real harm to real people."
"This law is taking people and disrupting their lives. Millions of people are getting cancellation notices. Families are seeing their premiums go up," he said.
"Either they were being dishonest, or they were incompetent," he added, in reference to the administration. "Frankly, I don’t know which one is worse."
Beyond criticizing the White House, he pushed the GOP to be constructive, as well.
"We have to show the country that we are not just the opposition party, we're the proposition party," he said - a potential message on which to build a 2016 run.
And for all the antagonism, Ryan finally ended on a high note, literally - leading the audience in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Branstad.