The Truth about Paul Ryan: How the New Republican Budget Chair Wrecked His District and Rose to Power

By Bybee, Roger | The Progressive, March 2011 | Go to article overview

The Truth about Paul Ryan: How the New Republican Budget Chair Wrecked His District and Rose to Power


Bybee, Roger, The Progressive


When Republican leaders chose Representative Paul Ryan to give the response to President Obama's State of the Union speech, they bestowed their blessing on this fast-rising star from Wisconsin's First District.

His is the boyishly handsome face and cheery demeanor of free market fundamentalism--a philosophy that has devastated his own district with particularly acute suffering. And now, as the new chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan promises more devastation for the rest of the nation.

"Paul Ryan is a phony and a disaster," says John Dohner, president of Local 95 of the United Auto Workers in Janesville, Ryan's hometown. "The people I know aren't fooled by his smile or surprised by his votes. They see him as a slickster, not a friend."

But a huge majority of voters in Ryan's district seem to be fooled, or at least fail to see any credible alternative. They keep sending him back to Washington. Last fall, Ryan's opponents were frustrated yet again as he skated to victory with 68 percent of the vote over barely funded and thus barely visible--Democrat John Heckenlively. Ryan pulled this off even though on Election Day, cities in his district had jobless rates between 10.3 percent and 13.4 percent.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Despite the hardship in his district, Ryan voted against extending unemployment benefits in November on the pretext that it would add more than "one dime to the deficit."

"This is something that really got talked about at union meetings," says Dohner.

Ryan then turned around and voted for the benefits when they were coupled with an extension of the Bush tax cuts, which would add seven trillion dimes to the deficit.

Ryan is a devotee of Ayn Rand, e literary icon of pure and ruthless free market policies. He has even made Atlas Shrugged required reading for his staff.

He accuses President Obama of favoring a "European-style welfare state" and, after the election, he all but called those who receive unemployment benefits lazy. "We have an incentive-based system where people want to get up and make the most of their lives, for themselves and their kids," he stated. "We don't want to turn this safety net into a hammock that ends up lulling people in their lives into dependency and complacency. That's the big debate we're having right now."

On the day of the House vote on Obama's stimulus bill, Ryan said: "This is not a crisis we can spend and borrow our way out of--that is how we got here in the first place. Yet this is precisely the path the majority chose today. We're repeating the mistakes of a flawed economic doctrine that deepened our Depression in the 1930s."

He thus gives a peculiar interpretation to the economic events of the 1930s.

Almost all economists and historians credit Roosevelt for lowering unemployment from about 25 percent to just under 10 percent through public spending. But Ryan is all about tax cuts and deficit reduction, entirely ignoring the central problem of weak consumer buying power--brought on by high unemployment and widespread wage-cutting--that has been worsening the recession. As he said in his response to the State of the Union, "Spending cuts have to come first."

Sometimes he sounds like Ronald Reagan, circa 1965, as when the Wisconsin legislator denounced Social Security and Medicare as part of a "collectivist system."

In his much-ballyhooed "Roadmap for America," touted as a cure for excessive spending, Ryan advocates partial privatization of Social Security and turning Medicaid and Medicare into voucher programs with limited benefits. He also would give more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, including an elimination of all taxes on corporate profits, capital gains, and dividends.

UAW member Diane Hrovaiten, who was among 3,800 workers who lost their jobs when the Delphi auto-parts plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, relocated work to Mexico, is not fond of Ryan's plan. "Ryan's 'Roadmap' protects the fortunes of the rich," she says, "but for the rest of us, it's an eight-lane expressway to destruction. …

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