The Electrical Worker online
October 2012

Paul Ryan in Washington:
From Moderate to Hard Right
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Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate gave the Republican ticket added definition, as Ryan's views about altering Medicare and Social Security came into sharper national focus.

But IBEW members living in Ryan's district say they're concerned that the candidate's plan to change Medicare into a partial voucher system while retooling Social Security could wreak havoc on their bank accounts.

"A lot of our members simply are no fans of Ryan," said Racine Local 430 Business Manager Chris Gulbrandson. "We've got many members who aren't yet ready for retirement but who have put 25 years in. They're nervous that what they've worked toward and paid into is going to look significantly different when they retire."

Ryan was elected to the House in 1998 and has been re-elected with comfortable margins in Wisconsin's First Congressional District, a swing district in the southeastern part of the state. Fifteen years ago, he supported policies that were popular among many working families of both major political parties.

"We're very disappointed in Ryan," said Madison Local 159 member Dave Boetcher, who coordinates government affairs for all inside locals affiliated with the Wisconsin State Conference. "Paul had always been a supporter of Davis-Bacon, but over the last few years, there's been some strong development in his opposition to protecting workers' wages and benefits. It might be more of the effect of the Republican echo chamber — that even though a candidate may have said something else earlier in office, now they all say the same thing."

Now, Boetcher said, Ryan has flip-flopped on many issues he previously embraced. "Today he's against Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance — it's saddening. It's often hard to find someone in the Republican Party who is reasonable on union issues. To have one who was with us start sliding away is worrisome."

A native of Janesville, the candidate's family owns Ryan Incorporated Central — a construction company that employs members of the Operating Engineers. Ryan worked for a short time for the family business before embarking on his political career. Boetcher said that Ryan's tilt further toward the anti-worker wing of his party is ironic.

"Paul has seen firsthand how a union company offering good wages leads to productive workers, which leads to a stable business, which leads to growth. He's done payroll, he knows this industry. And the building trades in the area has gotten along with him over the years. But whether it's a personal change on his part, a Tea Party push, or whether he's just going along with the GOP — that's anyone's guess."

Last month, news organizations revealed that Ryan, who has voted many times to repeal Obamacare, applied for funds under the president's Affordable Care Act to build a new community health center in his district. Gulbrandson called that "extremely hypocritical."

"You see guys like Ryan say over and over how bad the law is — but then you quietly ask for money?" he said. "Either be for [Obamacare] or against it. You can't have it both ways."

Mother Jones recently reported that when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the Wisconsin statehouse last year to protest Gov. Scott Walker's draconian crackdown on collective bargaining rights for public employees, Ryan referred to the demonstrations as "riots" — a term that riles Gulbrandson.

"Our members were there, and they were very far from riots," he said. "They were pretty peaceful demonstrations. But even now, people are getting in trouble trying to make their voices heard. There's a new law here that doesn't allow you to bring signs into the capitol. There were a few people ticketed there last week for having anti-Walker signs. It's like, 'Free speech is OK as long as we can tell you what to say.'"

When talking with his membership about the election, Gulbrandson says, "It's an old adage, but I tell people to 'vote your paycheck.' You've got to consider your wallet and see who's looking out for your interests. And it's not Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Just giving tax breaks to the rich hasn't worked in the past, and it's not going to work in the future to get us where we need to be as a country."


Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) once supported Davis-Bacon and other pro-worker policies, but has 'flip-flopped,' says Madison Local 159 member Dave Boetcher, governmental affairs coordinator for the Wisconsin State Electrical Conference.

Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Tobyotter.

GOP Medicare Plan =
Bad Medicine


In August, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made a campaign stop in front of seniors in Florida — a heavily contested swing state. Appearing at his side was Ryan's 78-year-old mother, Betty, who Ryan used to push his agenda of ending Medicare as we know it while repealing the Affordable Care Act.

But a recent report by Harvard economist David Cutler shows that the plan could slap current — and future — seniors with skyrocketing health care costs. In a recent analysis of Cutler's research, Think Progress reports:

"Current seniors would … have to pay more for preventive, hospital, and physician services should Romney and Ryan repeal the Affordable Care Act, facing an increase in health spending of between $7,900 and $18,600 over the course of their retirement."

And it gets worse. If Obamacare is repealed and the Romney/Ryan plan goes into effect — which it will in 2023, if they're elected — researchers estimate health care costs for today's workers will balloon tremendously. The chart below shows price increases in out-of-pocket Medicare spending for future generations.

Source: Center for American Progress calculations based on data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office