Ryan urged to “put faith back in politics”
At this afternoon’s listening session which took place at Gateway Technical College’s Madrigrano Auditorium before about 150 people, one person urged Paul Ryan to take a message back to Washington, D. C., with him. The citizen offered a word of encouragement to Ryan, thanking him for holding listening sessions. On this, the National Day of Prayer, this person repeated the words he had heard from the mayor of Racine earlier this morning, “It’s not so much what we say. People watch what you do and how you vote.” This person had served in the military for twenty years, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. He quoted Ronald Reagan: “We’re a great nation because we’re a nation under God.” The citizen said that “we need the faith component back in. Take that back to Washington, D.C. I’m concerned with the increasing hostility to Christians. Our first president, Washington, said ‘For God and country.’ Our money says ‘In God we trust.’”
Attendees were greeted at the door by five singing nuns who were passing out “testa-mints,” which had Bible verses printed on the packaging. The meeting was not as well attended as the session held in the fall, but the crowd was a bit more civil and polite. Questions were thoughtful and caring.
Ryan ran through a short PowerPoint presentation which outlined the consequences of the country’s ever-rising debt. He said that “half of our college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Our seniors are concerned with health and retirement security. We need to take lessons from Europe. Five European countries are in a debt crisis: Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Greece. And, the United States is on its way. Tax increases are rising, and so is unemployment. Greece has a 21% unemployment rate, Spain 24.4%, Portugal 15%, and Italy 9.4%. We are under the crushing burden of debt.”
One of Ryan’s slides held a quote from Tim Geithner, treasury secretary. It read: “We don’t have a definite solution to the long-term problem. What we do know is that we don’t like your’s.”
Ryan went on to say that the country is supposed to pass its budget by April 15th, but the Senate chose not to. One of the questions from the audience was, “Aren’t the Democrats violating the law when they refuse to pass the budget by the deadline?” “Yes,” Ryan said, “but there are no consequences. Each branch, the House and the Senate are to present their own budget. Then, representatives from each attend a joint conference where they can try to reconcile their differences. Then, Congress votes, and they start implementation. If there are any unresolved issues, the President is then to fix the problem. Since 2009, we’ve had no approved budget. The country has been running on auto pilot.”
Unfortunately, running the country in this manner doesn’t attempt to reduce the debt. Ryan said, “There has been a one and one-half trillion dollar net spending increase. There are five basic things we should do, which are principles of reform, which are addressed in the House-passed budget, The Path to Prosperity:
- Control spending. Let’s leave our kids a debt-free nation.
- Put an end to special-interest favoritism and corporate welfare.
- Tackle the root drivers of poverty with reforms that repair the social safety net, expand opportunity, and promote upward mobility. Nearly 50 million Americans – 1 in 6 Americans – are now living in poverty. He talked about giving displaced workers a scholarship, or a voucher, to go to Gateway or another school, and learn a new skill.
- Provide patient-centered Medicare reforms. There would be no change in benefits for those who are 55 and older now. The wealthy wouldn’t get as much of a subsidy.
- Provide tax reforms for all to promote growth. Ryan wants to lower the tax rate across the board.
“There are 10,000 people who retire every day,” said Ryan, “with only a 17% increase in the tax paying population. We need to get a handle on this situation now. Time is of the essence. Otherwise, a European-like situation is coming. All of these empty promises become broken promises. There is a fiscal gap of unfunded liabilities of $62 trillion, with no money to pay. Last year, it was $76 trillion; it will be $100 trillion this year. All this does is dig the hole deeper.”
He then took questions from the audience dealing with Medicare, tax subsidies, the territorial tax, business loopholes, wind farms, and coal plants.
One question had to do with the rate of Medicare payments. “Doctors who see Medicare patients currently receive 80 cents on the dollar. It will go to 30 cents on the dollar. What will happen will be that doctors will stop seeing Medicare patients. Forty percent will stop or go out of business. Plus, Obama has appointed a 15-member Independent Bureau of Payment Board, which will have to come up with ways on how to lower benefits to providers. This will cause premiums to increase. Our bill gets rid of the board, the raid on Medicare, leaves the program as is for current retirees and those ten years away from retirement, and comes up with a new system for those ages 54 and below, which guarantees covered options. It’s like Medicare Part B, in that it provides choices. Varying the Medicare subsidy based on wealth will lead to companies competing for business, which will lower cost and increase quality. It also saves it for the next generation.”
One woman wanted to know what kind of perks legislators get. Ryan stated that there’s an e-mail floating around out there that says that government employees don’t pay their own social security taxes. “That’s not true,” Ryan said. “That was true before the 1980′s, but it changed in 1995. The budget requires all to pay for half their pension. It used to be 0.8%, now it’s 6%. Their pension plans are not more luxurious. Also, the gym fees. I buy my own car. The government doesn’t lease a car for me. Also, there’s something else on the Internet that says that all you have to do is work for one year for the government, and you get a pension for life. That’s just not true. You must work 20 years for the federal government, and you would then receive 35% of your salary.”
Another question had to do with the 20% federal discretionary fund being eliminated. “How will lost jobs help the economy?” Ryan said that “Congress sets this non-defense discretionary funding, which accumulates to 39%, on an annual basis. Sixty percent is for mandatory required benefits. Half of the mandatory benefits are defense-related, and the other half is non-defense- related. Spending increases 3% a year, but at 4-1/2% a year under the President’s proposal. Will this hurt the economy? No. It will get debt under control. The stimulus package didn’t work. We can’t keep giving money to agencies.”
Ryan wants to treat all corporations the same. He’d like to see the tax rate lowered from 35% to 25% for all. “Nine out of ten companies file as individuals. We need to go through the tax code and look at what loopholes there are, and who gets them, and we need to get rid of narrow interest ones. The top 1% get almost all of the tax loophole shelters, and pay zero tax. We need to figure out which ones make the most sense for the country, and keep those as is.”
One woman wanted to know about wind farms. “Wisconsin should be a leader in the industry. We have the skilled workers, the shipbuilding industry. Why aren’t we on the bandwagon instead of blocking it?” Ryan’s reply was “that there is a wind production tax credit. But, I’m your federal rep, not your state rep. Bob Wirch is your state rep. I don’t know what this state is doing. There is federal policy for wind turbine production. I don’t believe that it’s economically viable without the tax credits.”
A Racine principal asked about $2 billion dollars being taken out of Head Start and the Catholics. Ryan said that he “likes talking religion in church, but at town hall meetings, I like to keep religion out of it. I’d like to see more money going back to the communities, like in block grants. This will give local poverty-fighting agencies control instead of having to abide by Washington rules. We need to provide job training in the form of scholarships. Small businesses grow the economy. Giving the money back to the states is a better way forward.”
The last question came from Pam Stevens, who just finished her stint on the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) Board. “Not having an approved budget for three years has made it difficult for school boards. What are the consequences in the Democratic controlled Senate?” Ryan talked about a bill that Jim Cooper has written and proposed that says that the Senate members don’t get paid if they don’t do their jobs. “I’m not criticizing Democrats. This messes up local governments’ plans for discretionary spending. Examples are Community Development Block Grants (CDBG’s) and fire prevention. It’s hard to plan discretionary spending when you don’t know the levels of benefits. One thing they do is continue to spend money. But, they don’t do oversight of spending. I say give the local municipalities their budget for two years. This will give them more predictability. It will also give Congress one year to do the oversight. This is what I’ll be working hard on this summer. I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
The session lasted an hour and a half.
To learn more about The Path to Prosperity, visit: http://budget.house.gov/prosperity/.