Ryan's rise puts focus on record
MADISON Rep. Paul Ryan's record runs deeper than his signature budget and Medicare ideas.
Mitt Romney's running mate is against abortion rights, has a top rating from gun-rights groups and backed sending troops to the wars. But in conflict with fellow Republicans, he's defended wage laws favored by unions. And he supported the auto industry bailout opposed by Romney and the bank bailout that the party's right flank now opposes.
Ryan's 14 years in Congress leave a long trail of votes for Democrats to pick apart, a process that began with gusto as Romney announced his choice Saturday.
Ryan's intense interest in fiscal issues—he holds a degree in economics and chairs the House Budget Committee—helps explain why those matters define him in Washington. But Ryan has always been a reliable vote on proposals dear to social conservatives, enough to earn him a perfect score from a key anti-abortion group back home.
This year, Republicans rallied behind his debt and deficit prescription to curtail federal spending on food stamps, Pell Grants for education and other programs. His debt-reduction proposal calls for cuts in personal and corporate tax rates, but also would pare back deductions and preferences that litter the tax code. So far, it has been little more than a GOP wish list that passed the Republican-led House but hasn't passed the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Ryan wants to fashion Medicare into a plan more like a 401(K), steering future retirees into private insurance plans, with a fixed payment from the government that may or may not cover as much of a retiree's costs as does the current program. It departs from the current "fee for service" framework in which the government pays doctor and hospital bills.
That's a marked shift in the social compact and not the only one he proposes. Ryan also wants to shift Medicaid to the states and sharply limit the growth of federal spending on that program. Medicare and Medicaid together reach some 100 million people.
His votes in Congress have gone against the grain at times. When Republicans have attempted to repeal federal wage protection laws for unions, Ryan has sided with Democrats in opposition. Even so, Ryan ardently campaigned for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who fended off a recall attempt spurred by state law changes cast as anti-union.
Ryan, whose district lost General Motors assembly plant a couple of years ago, supported the multi-billion dollar auto industry bailout started under then-Republican President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama. Romney famously penned an opinion piece in 2008 with the headline, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," arguing automakers could have gone through a managed bankruptcy and re-emerged without such massive help from taxpayers.
But there's no question that his budget and Medicare plan stand among the boldest ideas in Washington and present the fattest target for Democrats. Mindful of such sensitivities, Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie emphasized Sunday that as president, Romney "would be putting forward his own budget" as much as he admires Ryan's, making clear the presidential hopeful is not wedded to his running mate's proposals.
In taking his place on the ticket, Ryan lamented a Washington culture of timidity on the pressing issues of the time.
"We're running out of time—and we can't afford four more years of this," Ryan said as Romney looked on. "Politicians from both parties have made empty promises which will soon become broken promises—with painful consequences—if we fail to act now."
Obama's campaign said Ryan's ideas were the potentially painful ones.
"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Ryan has taken thousands of recorded votes since coming to Congress in 1999, a minefield for any candidate let alone one aspiring to the White House.
Ryan also signed his name to 1,064 bills and resolutions over that span. Many deal with eye-glazing tax policy. Others aim to restrict abortion procedures. He's made a recurring push for line-item veto powers to restrain spending.
A number qualify as parochial measures. For instance, he's sponsored legislation to modify tax treatment of archery equipment and ease tariffs on motorcycle wheels, clearly a nod to Harley-Davidson Motor Co.'s Wisconsin base.
The local touches don't impress Ryan opponents, who say he's padded his national reputation at the expense of his district.
State Rep. Peter Barca, a Democratic former congressman from southeastern Wisconsin, criticized Ryan's record and proposals as inconsistent with the pulse of the area he represents.
"He's an articulate, good-looking guy," Barca said. "He'd talk like a moderate in Wisconsin but it wasn't until his last budget that people saw how extreme his views are."
Still, Ryan has won seven congressional elections, most handily. He has never run statewide, meaning the campaign to snatch the Wisconsin electoral votes that went to President Barack Obama last time will be a test of his appeal beyond his back yard.
RYAN'S STANDS ON THE ISSUES
A look at where Republican running mate Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, stands on a selection of issues:
Budget: Ryan is the primary author of conservative tax and spending blueprints that Republicans on the House approved over Democratic opposition in 2011 and again in 2012. His plan would transform Medicare into a program in which future seniors would receive government checks that they could use to purchase health insurance. Other elements of the budget plan would cut projected spending for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, as well as food stamps, student loans and other social programs that Obama and Democrats have pledged to defend. In all, it projects spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over a decade, and would cut future projected deficits substantially. It also envisions a far-reaching overhaul of the tax code of the sort Romney has promised.
Medicare: He wants a plan more like a 401(K) that steers future retirees into private insurance plans with fixed payments from government that may or may not cover as much of their costs as does the current program. He would also gradually raise the eligibility age from the current 65 to 67. Ryan would turn Medicaid over to the states.
Guns: Ryan is outdoorsman who has a top rating from gun-rights groups. He voted to protect gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits stemming from misuse of the guns. He also voted to shorten gun-purchase waiting period from three days to one.
Abortion: The Catholic congressman is staunchly against abortion rights and backed by several anti-abortion groups. He co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act and Right to Life Act, which both say life begins at the moment of fertilization. He also co-sponsored a law that prohibits federal financing from being used for any health coverage that includes an abortion.
Social Security: Ryan has said poorer seniors should receive "more targeted assistance than those who have had ample opportunity to save for retirement" as part of the solution to the program's long-term insolvency. He's spoken favorably of proposals to grow benefits for wealthier retirees more slowly than for others. Ryan has also backed the idea, popular with Republican lawmakers, to let future retirees invest a portion of their Social Security contributions privately.
Gay rights: Ryan has voted against allowing same-sex couples to adopt, and opposed repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces. He has voted twice against hate crimes protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. And he's voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.