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Big City Hall crowd welcomes Ryan



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Paul Ryan answers a question Tuesday at City Hall.
April 27, 2011 | 09:08 AM
In previous years, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan admits only a handful of people would join him at his annual listening session stops throughout his district.

"Last time I was in Lake Geneva, I think there were 18 people here," Ryan said seconds after entering the room.

But, that wasn't the case on Tuesday. Ryan appeared in the standing room only filled senior center in Lake Geneva's City Hall. There were about 200 local residents and several television cameras with all eyes focused squarely on Ryan. Based on the standing ovation from those in the crowd when he entered the room, he was mostly among supporters.

"My son loves you and I love you," a woman said from the back instead of asking a question about midway through the listening session.

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Prior to the questions, Ryan, who has garnered national attention for his budget proposal, spoke about his plan. He spent about 15 minutes discussing using a PowerPoint the debt crisis he sees looming for America.

Ryan said his budget proposal cuts $6.2 trillion in government spending compared to the president's budget, eliminates hundreds of duplicative programs, bans earmarks, curbs corporate welfare and brings some nonsecurity discretionary spending to below 2008 levels.

He talked about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid as the drivers of the country's future debt problems. Ryan said Medicare is the biggest of them all and will be insolvent by 2020 if nothing is done.

He said longer life spans and more retirees are causing some of these problems as the workforce diminishes.

Ryan also discussed the amount of debt America has and who holds the debt. In 1990, 19 percent of the country's debt was held by foreign countries. Now, that number is 47 percent. He said that fact undermines America's sovereignty. He also said it is a level of debt that is unsustainable.

"The fact is we are giving our children a lower standard of living," he said. "We are giving them a stagnant society. We have to get ahead of this. Time is of the essence."

He said tough choices must be made now so children and grandchildren don't have to make tougher choices.

In general terms, Ryan talked about the need to turn the economy around, strengthening the social safety net, balancing the budget and paying off debt.

"A lot of people say raise taxes on certain people," Ryan said. "But spending is the problem. If we try to tax our way out of this we will ruin the economy."

After his presentation, Ryan answered questions for about 40 minutes.

The first came from a woman who questioned Ryan's figures and where he obtained them. She also said he was one of the biggest recipients of corporate contributions and questioned what he planned to do about taxes for those types of companies. She also said Medicare paperwork is very difficult to understand already and Ryan's plan would make it harder.

Ryan explained that he used Congressional Budget Office numbers and the Heritage Foundation, which is considered a conservative thinktank, then looked at the proposal to see if the numbers would work.

Ryan also said his tax proposals lower all rates, but remove the deductions that some people and companies receive. He also addressed her Medicare concern.

"People have the right to make decisions," Ryan said. "I don't like the government making these decisions for people. Millions of people are already making these decisions. Monopolies don't work — whether they are industry or government — they are not good for the consumer."

There also were questions he answered regarding the wars overseas, how to bring more manufacturing jobs to the country, simplifying and improving the tax code, and whether he had changed his mind regarding running for president.

One businessman questioned why he pays taxes and companies like GE don't. He said GE filed a 29,000-page tax return and ended up paying no income taxes.

Ryan said the top 1 percent and the largest corporations all are able to shelter more of their income through tax deductions. He wants to change that by reducing rates for everyone, but eliminating the loopholes and many deductions. He said filing taxes should be simple and fair.

"People who make more should pay more," he said.

Ryan also said a problem with the economy is the fact that America doesn't make things anymore. He said 95 percent of the consumers are not in America.

"We have to be attracting business globally," he said. "We have to make things, but our tax system doesn't (attract businesses here)."

Ryan also was quick to respond to one question regarding a possible run for president. For a long time, Ryan has said he is not interested in running for president and has cited his young family as one reason.

"My mind has not changed," he said.

But, Ryan received the most applause for his answer that suggested America needs to depend less on foreign oil.

"We are helping Brazil drill off their coast, but we aren't drilling off ours," he said.

It wasn't all support for Ryan, who has served in Congress for more than 10 years. One man questioned Ryan's previous votes for the auto bailout, Medicare Part D, transportation spending and the Bush tax cuts. He asked how Ryan could vote for those items if he was so concerned about the deficit and debt.

Ryan said there are circumstances to votes and sometimes a congressman must choose the best option even though neither are what he or she wants. He said that is what happened regarding the auto bailout and Medicare Part D.

"Sometimes you have to make choices you don't always like," Ryan said.

He said the prescription drug plan was going to occur either way and he voted for the bill he believed was better even though it wasn't exactly what he wanted. He said the bill created health savings accounts and other benefits.

The transportation vote was to help Wisconsin recover its gas taxes and Ryan did not answer the Bush tax cuts question.

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