Hoover Daily Report

Ryan's Record Shows Flexibility on Policy

via Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rep. Paul Ryan became a favorite of conservatives as a budget hawk, someone steeped in the view that federal spending must be restrained.

But over the course of a long congressional career, the newly minted Republican vice-presidential candidate has taken actions that show more flexibility than some of the tea-party-inspired freshmen who make up much of the current GOP majority.

Mr. Ryan voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Bush-era Medicare prescription-drug benefit and an early, limited version of what became the auto-industry bailout. In addition, he voted against President Barack Obama's stimulus and called the bill "a monstrosity," then wrote letters to the secretary of energy endorsing stimulus projects in his home state.

Mr. Ryan's conservative bona fides aren't in question. His budget blueprint is considered a leading proposal for how a smaller federal government might operate. In casting a vote for TARP, designed to rescue the financial system, Mr. Ryan made clear his distaste for the policy.

But his is a history that illustrates why it can be difficult for members of Congress to make the leap to the White House. Pressured by party leaders and eager to show they are delivering for their districts, lawmakers sometimes cast votes that seem at odds with their own professed beliefs.

"This is an issue that goes all the way back to the founding of the American republic," said Bill Galston, a former domestic policy aide to Bill Clinton and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "You represent a district or a state. How do you balance those interests against the broader interests of the country?"

Mr. Obama had a sparse federal voting record when he jumped into the presidential race in 2007, having served in the U.S. Senate for just two years. Nonetheless, his requests for more than $930 million in earmarks came under fire from his 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain.

Mr. Ryan, for his part, has shown a willingness to help out when constituents call.

In late 2009, he wrote four letters to Mr. Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu, endorsing stimulus proposals submitted by organizations in his state. He trumpeted the projects and asked Mr. Chu to give "prompt and full consideration" to the requests.

The Department of Energy released letters from dozens of lawmakers, including Mr. Ryan, in response to a request from The Wall Street Journal.

Asked about the letters, the Romney-Ryan campaign pointed to a statement given in response to a 2010 Journal article mentioning a similar letter Mr. Ryan sent to the labor secretary: "If Congressman Ryan is asked to help a Wisconsin entity applying for existing Federal grant funds, he does not believe flawed policy should get in the way of doing his job and providing a legitimate constituent service to his employers."

Bill Whalen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former speechwriter for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson of California, said such spending requests should be evaluated on their merits, and that their existence probably wouldn't affect the party's opinion of its new candidate.

He noted Mr. Ryan's "three avatars" are Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Jack Kemp. "For conservatives, that's a pretty good trinity," Mr. Whalen said.

Three of the letters to the Department of Energy were written by Mr. Ryan in October 2009, eight months after the president signed the stimulus into law, on behalf of the Energy Center of Wisconsin, a nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency. Frank Greb, now president of the center, said the group asked members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation for support, "regardless of political leanings."

One project was aimed at making homes more efficient in their use of energy. The project didn't receive funding, federal records show. A second dealt with training to ensure commercial buildings operate at peak energy efficiency. The center was a subrecipient of a grant award that totaled $740,000.

A third was designed to underwrite research on "hybrid ground-source heat pump systems." That project received about $190,000 in stimulus funds, federal records show.

The congressman sent another letter to Mr. Chu in December 2009 that recommended a grant request by the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. In his letter, Mr. Ryan said the organization was seeking grant money for a project to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in Madison, Milwaukee and Racine, a city Mr. Ryan represents.

Mary Schlaefer, president and chief executive of the group, said it contacted various elected officials to build support. The application was awarded $20 million in stimulus funds, federal records show.

At a speech in early 2009 at which he blasted the stimulus, Mr. Ryan said millions of dollars would go toward "green cars for bureaucrats." Later that year, he said he would "prospectively repeal the stimulus and put it toward better policy."

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