Before Paul Ryan was anointed as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Ryan reigned as the GOP’s resident economic genius and “leading intellectual.”
However, this praise from major media outlets has long been divorced from the reality 1,000 miles away back in Ryan’s 1st Congressional District in southeastern Wisconsin. Even while Beltway media — and even President Obama — heaped kudos on Ryan for his bold economic proposals and “intellectual audacity,” the productive base and social health of his constituents have been severely deteriorating under the impact of the very policies he has aggressively championed.
Ryan trumpeted the $1.2 trillion in Bush tax cuts showered largely on the richest 1%, pushed for the deregulation of Wall Street financial manipulations, opposed 2007 efforts to rein in the financial industry’s increasingly risky practices but then voted for a virtually unconditional bailout of the big banks after the meltdown in 2008 in order to “save the free enterprise system.” Ryan also voted for the auto bailout without any provisions to prioritize US jobs including those in his district. Further, Ryan has been a consistent supporter of the “free trade” deals with low-wage, repressive regimes that have fueled the offshoring of jobs.
In recent years, Ryan’s home district has lost thousands of family-sustaining jobs. Its economic foundations have been dangerously hollowed out: Delco in Oak Creek shut down at a cost of 3,800 jobs, mostly going to Mexico; Chrysler in Kenosha had 850 jobs sent to Mexico with the help of auto industry “bailout” funds; and General Motors in his hometown of Janesville eliminated 2,800 jobs directly with its pre-Christmas 2008 plant closing, while GM kept open a low-wage plant with parallel capacities in Silao, Mexico. The GM shutdown in Janesville wiped out another 3,000 jobs in nearby supplier plants.
The three major industrial counties in Ryan’s district have endured devastating manufacturing job losses since 2000, with Kenosha County losing 30%, Racine County 33%, and Rock County an astonishing 54%.
PREDICTABLE RESULTS OF JOB LOSS
The results of Ryan’s policies and the resulting economic wreckage havebeen grimly predictable. The persistently high unemployment has been accompanied by rising signs of social disintegration and distress throughout most of the district.
• Foreclosures in Rock County — home to Janesville and Beloit — have quadrupled since 2000. They have nearly tripled throughout the entire district.
• In Janesville, the GM shutdown created such a surplus of workers begging for jobs that the average wage fell from $23.27 in 2007 to $18.82 in 2010.
• Within three months of the GM closing just before Christmas in 2008, the number of battered women seeking shelter at the YWCA’s Janesville family violence center nearly tripled.
• Janesville has been afflicted by a major increase in child abuse and neglect.
• Janesville’s rate of child poverty has nearly doubled to 47.1% since 2000. The percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches ranges from 43% to 69% in the major cities of his district.
• Janesville has also experienced a near-doubling in suicides over the first two years since the GM closing.
OBLIVIOUS TO SUFFERING
Yet Ryan has remained oblivious to this massive suffering, seemingly driven by his embrace of Ayn Rand’s ideology of anti-social capitalism (which he recently and unconvincingly renounced in the face of complaints about her atheism). He has advocated and voted for cuts to the government protections and the social safety net desperately needed by families in his district trying to hang on to their cars, their homes, and their dignity.
Ryan, always readily willing to bestow bailouts on major banks and corporations, but worries that workers and the poor will lose their motivation to work if the government directs meaningful help to workers, the jobless, and the poor. Ryan claims that the US safety net, pitifully thin compared to other advanced nations, is already in danger of seriously undermining the will to work: “We don’t want to turn this safety net into a hammock that ends up lulling people in their lives into dependency and complacency.”
After Ryan advanced pro-corporate policies that laid waste to his district, he followed up by seeking to block programs that would relieve the human misery among his constituents:
• Ryan has voted against extended unemployment benefits despite a persistent lack of job openings.
• Ryan has consistently opposed increases in the minimum wage, in spite of growing evidence that the majority of minimum-wage workers are employed by giant firms.
• Ryan has opposed the S-CHIP healthcare program to aid low-income people, as well as vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the face of rising needs for healthcare among the ranks of the uninsured. In Janesville, for example, “Over the last two years, we’ve seen a 77% increase in the number of patients,” Traci Rogers, executive director of the HealthNet Clinic for low-income people,” told me in 2011.
• Ryan has voted against expansions of foreclosure-prevention assistance, in the face of evidence that prior efforts were far too weak and mis-directed toward helping mortgage holders rather than families trying to save their homes.
• Ryan has opposed expanded funding for job training in both his votes and his budget proposals. “The cuts he is proposing would have a devastating effect on the hardest-hit workers in Wisconsin, with cities like Racine and Beloit way above the national average in unemployment,” says Robert Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. “The cuts would mean that displaced workers would be shut out of new opportunities.”
Clearly, Ryan would prefer that government resources be directed elsewhere: to intruding into the sex lives of women and radically restricting their reproductive rights. Despite being identified for years with Ayn Rand’s “libertarianism” and a philosophy of “small government,” Ryan has zealously pursued a legislative agenda to essentially criminalize abortion under virtually all circumstances, often in tandem with the now-toxic Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is now running for the Senate. “Over the thirteen years he’s been in Congress, Ryan has voted 59 times — every time possible — to deny women access to abortion and even to forms of contraception,” notes Marilyn Katz in In These Times. “The 59 pieces of legislation range from declaring a fetus a human being with full legal rights to allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to a woman who needs post-abortion care — even if she is at death’s door.”
While Ryan’s legislative teamwork with Rep. Akin has instantly gained a scorching media spotlight, escaping mainstream media attention has been Ryan’s little-discussed budget proposal to halt the authority of the US government to tax the foreign profits of US corporations once they are brought back into the country, notes tax expert David Cay Johnston, author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill. This provision in Ryan’s budget plan would be disastrous to both US jobs and tax revenues.
“Ryan’s plan would insure that any profits created offshore by US corporations would never be taxed by the US government,” explains Johnston, who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his work as the New York Times’ tax reporter. “This would create a tremendous incentive to move more and more US jobs overseas to escape taxes on the profits that foreign workers produce for them,” Johnston told me. Corporations would thus gain a huge financial advantage in off-shoring those family-supporting jobs remaining in Ryan’s home district and the rest of the US.
In sum, Ryan’s economic policies have intensified the incessant carpet-bombing of the First District’s manufacturing base. But even more mercilessly, Ryan has led the strafing of the first aid stations, the safety-net measures and programs designed to help the under-employed and the jobless earn higher wages, feed their families, retain their homes, and get retrained for scarce new jobs.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and publicity consultant. This article appeared at HuffingtonPost.com. Email winterbybee @gmail.com.
From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2012
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