Over his 13 years in Congress, Ryan has often used the powers of his office to seek federal funds for his district, sometimes from existing pools of money and other times in ways that would increase federal spending. His success has meant funding for projects including a runway extension at a local airport and an environmental study of the Kenosha Harbor.
There is nothing improper or even unusual about what Ryan has done — in fact, it is the essence of what many congressmen do and what many of their constituents expect. But it complicates the image that Ryan, and now Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, have sought to project of a man who is single-mindedly focused on sharply cutting the federal budget and erasing the nation’s deficit.
The attention to Ryan’s funding requests introduced an unexpected bump to an otherwise positive week after his introduction as Romney’s running mate. With the intense focus on Ryan and his record, a couple of other topics also have challenged the campaign: Romney and Ryan struggled to square their Medicare plans, and when Ryan accused President Obama of going easy on China, Obama supporters noted the congressman’s vote against legislation that could have imposed duties on countries such as China.
In the case of Ryan’s advocacy for federal funds, his positions have sometimes blurred party lines: In several instances, he sought earmarks opposed by the George W. Bush administration. In 2009, he urged the Obama administration to award millions of economic stimulus dollars for “green” jobs in his district, even though he had voted against the stimulus package that year.
The congressman’s stance on federal dollars drew more attention this week when he denied in an interview with a Cincinnati television station that he had ever sought stimulus dollars. Earlier, he had made the same claim on a Boston radio show.
He backtracked Thursday and acknowledged he had sought stimulus funds, but said his office had mishandled the requests. He continued to voice opposition to the stimulus program, which he has called a “wasteful spending spree.”
Ryan, who pledged in 2008 to no longer seek earmarks, already had done so less often than most of his congressional colleagues, and officials in his home town of Janesville 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, and he contrasted Ryan’s approach with what he characterized as Obama’s budget-busting policies.
“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. “And by swearing off earmarks years ago, he led by example to change the way Washington works — something President Obama simply can’t say.”