For Ryan, the answer is local
DELAVAN—A Milton man at a recent town hall meeting Rep. Paul Ryan attended brought up a problem he had with his son—who'd received stellar grades--being passed over for an air traffic controller job. It was an area Ryan wasn't familiar with, but he checked into the matter, and ended up questioning hiring policies at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Those types of constituent-specific questions also are brought by voters to his mobile office, a van that makes stops in municipalities in the 1st Congressional District, Ryan said. The office, Ryan said, makes it easier for senior or rural residents to get one-on-one answers to their problems. The congressman stopped in the Walworth County newsroom in Delavan May 5, combining the promotion of the scheduled launch of his mobile office with a brief Q-and-A session with the editorial staff.
Just as in dealing with voter concerns, Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said months of research into his hearings on poverty in the U.S. made him realize one size doesn't fit all when it comes to finding solutions on homelessness and unemployment.
But Ryan emphasized more local, rather than federal, control over poverty issues.
“Customization really matters, there's no top-down, cookie-cutter approach,” he said.
Without that local perspective on problems, there's a risk of creating more problems than solutions, he said, pointing out that $800 million of the federal budget goes toward poverty programs.
“We've made it easier for people to lose more by leaving their benefits than to gain by going to work and getting a paycheck. That's a huge disincentive,” he said of current federal policies on poverty.
“We've isolated the poor, and we need to change that. We give the impression to most people that you pay your taxes, you send money to the government and you don't have to get involved. And we've reinforced that notion.
“We don't have all the answers in Washington and we shouldn't pretend to. We need an overhaul of the federal approach to poverty issues. We've got the money to spend, but we're not spending it well. We need to reinvigorate the community.”
In light of the failure of the Senate to pass a minimum wage hike to $10.10, Ryan reiterated his disapproval of raising the minimum wage, citing the Congressional Budget Office's prediction of a loss of 500,000 jobs if the minimum wage rose.
Despite public approval of a hike and the actions by some states to increase their minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, Ryan worries that an overall increase will make it more difficult for young workers to get into entry-level positions that he says will help them climb the job ladder.
Some reports from the U.S. Labor Department indicate about 50 percent of low-wage earners are over 25 years old—not teens, but young adults raising a family and paying a mortgage. In those cases, Ryan said, government vouchers for more education or job training would be needed.
Although issues like the minimum wage and poverty bring out party divisions most sharply, Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, were able to hammer out a bipartisan effort on the federal budget last year.
Ryan said the two spent months poring over several proposed budgets looking for common ground.
Motivated by the threat of a government shutdown helped the legislators work together, he said, but the two agreed the compromise would not violate either's core principles.
“There are many who believe perfect is the enemy of good, but prudence is OK, and incremental gains are necessary in a divided government,” Ryan said. “It's not a sellout of principle to take steps in the right direction.”
While he hasn't officially filed his reelection paperwork, Ryan said he will be running again in the First District.
And as the campaign gears up, that could mean debates between Ryan and Democratic opponents Rob Zerban and Amar Kaleka.
“This year it's campaigning as normal,” said Ryan, who in 2012 was also a vice-presidential running mate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “Last time I was debating (Vice President) Joe Biden.”