Ryan sought earmarks, grants for home district
Rep. Paul Ryan's history of seeking federal funds for his Wisconsin district complicates the image he and now the Romney campaign have sought to project of a man who is single-mindedly focused on cutting the federal budget and erasing the nation's deficit.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Five months ago, Rep. Paul Ryan contacted the Department of Transportation, urging that it look favorably upon his hometown's request for $3.8 million, which would help build a city transit center.
That was the same project that four years ago received $735,000 in federal funds through an earmark Ryan, R-Wis., had secured.
The Republican vice-presidential candidate has often used his office over his 13 years in Congress to seek federal funds for his Wisconsin district, sometimes from existing pools of money and other times in ways that would increase federal spending. His success has meant funding for projects ranging from a runway extension at a local airport to an environmental study of the Kenosha Harbor.
There's nothing illegal or unusual about what Ryan has done; it's the essence of what many members of Congress do and what many constituents expect. But it complicates the image that Ryan and now the Romney campaign have sought to project of a man who is single-mindedly focused on cutting the federal budget and erasing the nation's deficit.
Ryan's stance on federal dollars drew more attention this week when he denied he had ever sought stimulus dollars in an interview with a Cincinnati television station. Earlier he had made the same claim on a Boston radio show. He backtracked Thursday and acknowledged he had sought stimulus funds, but he said his office had mishandled the requests.
Ryan, who pledged in 2008 to no longer seek earmarks, had done so less than most of his congressional colleagues, and officials in his Janesville, Wis., hometown said he has kept his 2008 pledge. Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesman, rejected any contradiction between the congressman's efforts to secure federal funds and his budget-cutting mantra.
"While President Obama has racked up massive debt and overseen an unprecedented credit downgrade, Congressman Ryan has forged bipartisan solutions to address the real drivers of our debt," Buck said Friday.
Even with his pledge not to seek earmarks, Ryan "has still remained supportive of projects in the community that he feels are worthwhile," said Jay Winzenz, Janesville's assistant city manager.
In a March 12 letter to the Transportation Department on behalf of Janesville's application for the transit-center grant, Ryan wrote: "I was pleased to learn that the City believes that a new facility will relieve current space constraints and operational inefficiencies." The city got the grant.
Last year, Ryan signed a letter with other members of the Wisconsin delegation seeking a federal grant for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The letter, dated Aug. 1, 2011, said the funds would be used to replace aging vehicles and "invest in green technology and alternative fuels."
Ryan, an avid deer hunter, co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in 2003 that would allocate $20 million nationwide to fight chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, a malady similar to mad-cow disease. Congress wound up allocating $19 million for the measure, including $1.75 million that went to Wisconsin.
Ryan's advocacy for his constituents began soon after he took office in 1999. In an October 2000 news release, he said he had "succeeded in including" $1.5 million in a transportation bill for an airport runway extension, primarily to benefit a local General Motors plant.
He sent similar statements saying he had intervened with federal agencies to secure or allocate funds to better equip Janesville firefighters, and to help low-income Wisconsin students take more advanced-placement classes.
In July 2005, his office said his efforts led to $12.8 million in a federal transportation measure for three Wisconsin road projects, along with engineering funds for commuter rail and a "streetcar-expansion project" in Kenosha.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Ryan had secured "about the average amount" of earmarks compared with other rank-and-file lawmakers.
Ryan obtained more earmarks in 2008, records show, including the funding for the Janesville transit center, $1.3 million for the 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail and $3.3 million for Wisconsin bus facilities. Ryan alone requested the Janesville money; the other two earmarks also were requested by other legislators, including Democrats.
However, compared with other lawmakers that year, Ryan ranked 401st of 435 members in the House based on total dollars secured, said Ellis, whose organization monitors earmarks.
Three years ago, Ryan pushed for funds from a spending source anathema to Republicans: Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.
Ryan wrote letters in 2009 to the Labor and Energy departments seeking stimulus funds for two energy-conservation groups in his district. One letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, on behalf of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., said it wanted to use the money to reduce energy costs and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Ryan said he was "pleased to learn" that the project would build "sustainable demand for green jobs," a major Obama administration priority, according to the letter, dated Dec. 18, 2009. The letters were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe.
In March 2009, Ryan wrote a letter of support on behalf of the Energy Center of Wisconsin to fund research into alternative heating and cooling systems. The grant was awarded.
Ryan also signed a bipartisan letter with the state's delegation in 2009 asking the Treasury Department to dip into a $25 billion pool of grants and low-interest loans to prevent Chrysler from closing its automotive plant in Kenosha. The letter, dated May 7, 2009, said the money would help the automaker "retool" the plant to produce more fuel-efficient engines.
Washington Post researcher Alice Crites
contributed to this story.