Ryan hears from voters at listening session

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Saturday, October 29, 2011
— “Tax the rich,” said a sign carried by a demonstrator standing on the sidewalk Friday morning on Pontiac Drive.

Don’t tax them so much, and don’t regulate business so much, because that causes uncertainty, and that feeling keeps them from creating new jobs, Rep. Paul Ryan said at his listening session inside the Pontiac Convention Center.

Without directly mentioning President Barack Obama’s talk of increasing taxes on the rich, the Republican congressman and Janesville native decried the “politics of division.”

“I don’t think it’s healthy for us to be stoking the flames of envy and resentment. I don’t care about rich people, because they’re already rich,” Ryan said. “What I worry about is making it easier for people to become successful, who’ve never seen it before. …

“I would like to see nothing more than a decentralization of wealth in America. … The way to do that is to extend opportunity and free enterprise, not to deny those things, because you know what happens? The wealthy and the powerful will call the shots.”

At that point, some low chatter and chuckles erupted from the audience but quickly died as Ryan continued, saying that politicians and bureaucrats should not be picking the economy’s winners and losers—something he said Republicans and Democrats are both guilty of doing.

Ryan specifically mentioned one of the winners, the ethanol industry, which enjoys a government subsidy.

Ryan, who is facing what could be his most serious election challenge since he won his seat in 1998, is facing accusations from Democrats that he protects the rich at the expense of everyone else.

A Ryan spokesman later rejected that idea, saying Ryan’s plan would close tax loopholes enjoyed predominantly by the richest Americans in exchange for lower tax rates for everyone.

Jobs were on the minds of Ryan as well as the dozen or so sign-carriers outside.

“Make it as easy as possible for businesses to grow, to develop and to hire people,” Ryan said. “I’m convinced—from all of my listening sessions, plant tours, roundtables with manufacturers—that the policies coming out of the federal government are making it harder for them to plan and grow and hire.”

Ryan advocated opening up government lands to oil and gas exploration, which he said could be extracted safely and decrease reliance on foreign sources. It would also lower energy prices and create jobs, he said.

One member of the audience asked Ryan to oppose the renewal of the tax cuts enacted during President George W. Bush’s tenure. Lowering taxes will not spur investments in new jobs, because money spent to create jobs is already tax-free, the man said.

“I’m asking you to reject the doctrine that rich people will invest more if their taxes are lowered. We know it just isn’t true,” the man said.

Return tax rates to what they were when the government’s budget was balanced and then cut spending to balance the budget, the man said.

Ryan complimented the man on his analysis but said he agreed with the president last December when a bipartisan vote extended the tax cuts in the interest of bolstering the economy.

Ryan said his solution is to scrap the current code, with its loopholes and tax shelters that keep corporations such as General Electric from paying taxes. Eliminate the loopholes and lower tax rates for everyone, Ryan said.

Ryan said 90 percent of Wisconsin business owners file not as corporations but as individuals, so personal income tax rates affect those businesses.

Other countries are lowering their tax rates, and lowering U.S. rates would make businesses more competitive globally, Ryan said.

Another man challenged that, saying that while corporate tax rates are high, the U.S. is near the bottom of the list of industrialized countries in terms of corporate taxes paid.

Good point, Ryan responded, which is why the tax system should be revamped and rates lowered for all.

The problem with the high tax rate is that a lot of businesses do pay it, and business decisions are made based on that rate, Ryan said.

Ryan said after the meeting that the one item that has a chance for bipartisan support in Congress is the idea of lowering the corporate tax rate, something he said the president is interested in doing.

“I don’t think it’s enough to get our economy moving, but I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Ryan spent a lot of time on health care costs, which he noted are far outpacing inflation. Getting them under control is key to solving the government’s financial problems, he said.

Ryan said his plan would take Medicare payments away from the rich, who need it the least, and shift it to those who need it the most.

Democrats have attacked Ryan’s plan, which would make changes in Medicare starting for those now under age 55. They say it would end Medicare. Ryan said it would protect it from financial collapse.

Ryan said his plan would put money in people’s hands rather than a third party, and people’s market-based decisions would hold costs down.

Democrats have dismissed it as a voucher system that wouldn’t cover people’s costs.

Ryan would not comment on state politics, but he said federal employees should pay more for their pensions and for their health care, something state lawmakers recently imposed on most public-sector workers.

It’s not right that public-sector workers should get better benefits than the people who pay the taxes to support those benefits, Ryan said.

“I think he’s got lots of great plans, at least they sound great when he says them,” retiree Kenneth Pearson of Janesville said afterward. “But none of his plans have anything to do with the situation we are in right now. They’re all 10-year plans. We need some action now. We need some tax increases now.”

Listening session remains peaceful

Rep. Paul Ryan’s listening session in his hometown Friday was peaceful.

About 200 people attended the Republican congressman’s first listening session since April.

No angry outbursts were heard, although there were several smatterings of polite applause, both for and against Ryan’s positions.

Janesville police had 30 officers assigned to security at the Pontiac Convention Center, although only about 10 uniformed officers were in plain view.

Police Lt. Tim Hiers said 11 of the officers were working overtime at 3.5 hours each. He did not have information on the costs.

Police had a bus parked in the rear.

Hiers said the bus was used to transport the officers and would have been used as a temporary holding facility in the case of numerous arrests.

Hiers addressed the crowd before Ryan appeared, asking people to be respectful and noting that anyone ignoring a warning to respect others’ rights to speak would be escorted out.

“We are all Wisconsinites. That means we treat each other with respect,” Ryan said in his opening remarks.

Janesville retiree Don Dyke said afterward that he was taken aback by all the police when he walked in and thought, “my God, what country are we in,” but he was pleased with how it turned out.

“I was particularly appreciative of the fact that there were no loud outcries. It was civil,” Dyke said.

Last updated: 6:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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