Don’t be surprised if Republican Rep. Paul Ryan works hard at tonight’s vice presidential debate to counter Vice President Joe Biden’s Scranton, Pa. working-class roots with his own small-town roots in Janesville, Wis. But while both will invoke their middle-class roots, it is Ryan who in Congress has been in relentless opposition to the fundamental things that middle-class people want and need.
That opposition is reflected in Ryan’s “zero” score in TheMiddleClass.org 2012 Voter Guide, released earlier this month. That voter guide looks at 10 votes during the 112th Congress that are symbolic of the kitchen-table concerns of middle-class and low-income families. Ryan is among 181 members of the House who received a score of zero, but of course Ryan stands out not only because he is the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate but because he is the intellectual leader of that band of 181 members who never sided with the middle class on a significant vote during this congressional session.
Arguably the most important vote we rate in the guide is on what has come to be known as the “Ryan budget,” the fiscal 2013 budget resolution. It will—or at least certainly should be—the centerpiece of tonight’s debate. TheMiddleClass.org offers a scathing critique of the budget resolution’s impact on middle class households: “Supporters of this budget choose to be the tribunes of the 1 percent, willing to destroy basic elements of the American dream in service of that cause. … [T]his legislation would dramatically lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while cutting programs vital to the security of middle-class families.”
As the voter guide spells out, “Medicaid, which under the resolution would be turned into a block grant program, would be cut by $770 billion over 10 years; other entitlement programs would be cut by nearly $2 trillion, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. Domestic discretionary programs, where spending levels are set based on annual congressional deliberations rather than eligibility formulas, would be cut by $38 billion in fiscal 2013 and more than $350 billion over 10 years.”
At the same time, it would further cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires by lowering the top tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, eliminating the alternative minimum tax that is intended to keep wealthy individuals from piling up exemptions and deductions that cause them to evade paying tax altogether, and keeping in place the lower tax rate on capital gains that has the effect of allowing people like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to pay a lower tax rate than many of the hourly employees who have worked for him and his businesses.
That budget would also turn Medicare into a voucher program, which could be used to remain in the current Medicare system or shop for private plans. The voucher is designed to only cover a portion of health care cost increases over time, so that seniors bear a greater percentage of the costs on their own, and would ration their own care as a result.
This all embodies Ryan’s “makers vs. takers” ideology, the backdrop for Romney’s now-abandoned statement in a private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are people “dependent on government” who can’t be convinced “to take personal responsibility for their lives.” And while Ryan says that he is not opposed to all government assistance to those in need, he is far more generous when it comes to ensuring that wealthy so-called “makers” are even wealthier.
Consider his votes on some of the other bills highlighted in the voter guide, such as the Orwellian-named “Job Protection and Recession Prevention Act,” which does not have as its primary purpose projecting jobs or preventing a recession, but was instead proposed by House Republicans to permanently enshrine into law the Bush tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year. He also voted in favor of a bill that would allow corporate lobbyists to pressure Congress into overturning major health and safety regulations based on their costs to business, regardless of their benefits to ordinary people. He wanted to render the Consumer Financial Protection Agency toothless by allowing regulators who see their job as protecting the financial industry to trump decisions that would protect consumers. He voted for a bill that would make it harder for workers to fight for better wages and benefits. He would not support keeping government student loan rates from doubling this year without first killing funding for a community health care program. Then, of course, there are his repeated efforts to repeal health care reform.
Whether it is the need for federal intervention to create good-paying jobs rebuilding and revitalizing our public assets or to prevent the layoffs of state and local public workers, providing the funding necessary to allow public schools to succeed and to make higher education accessible, ensuring that ordinary people have some protection against corporate predators, providing basic economic security for families struggling to get back on their feet, Paul Ryan is a consistent and fervent opponent.
“Ryan has learned to look straight into the camera and exude a choir boy’s innocent sincerity while offering up a toxic brew of platitude, slur and deception,” Robert Borosage wrote after Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention in August. He went on to write that Ryan has been “an apostle of financial deregulation, ignoring the Wall Street excesses that blew up the economy. He touted the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War and the prescription drug benefit without concern for paying for them. He voted for TARP with no demand of heads rolling on Wall Street. He pockets big bucks from Big Oil in denial of climate change. He’s a proud advocate of the corporate trade deals that continue to rack up foreign deficits of over $1 billion a day.”
To put it simply, Paul Ryan does not stand with the middle class. He is a leading champion of the policies that have caused middle-class and working-class families to fall behind while the wealthiest continue to get a disproportionate share of what little economic growth there is. He is a lead obstructionist in the struggle to repair the middle-class economy and make things right again for working people. In that respect, he is worse than “zero.”