JANESVILLE, Wis. -- In September 2008, as Wall Street was roiling with calamity, Rep. Paul Ryan was facing another looming disaster back home.
A General Motors plant, the lifeblood of his hometown, was set to close. The huge Suburbans and Tahoes from the Janesville production line were no longer in vogue. The aging plant was to stop production by Christmas -- unless Ryan and other Wisconsin officials could save it.
Ryan, then the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, flew to Detroit to cajole GM executives. For more than an hour, he and other officials made a PowerPoint proposal that mixed union concessions with unprecedented state and local tax breaks for GM.
"We put an enormous package on the table," said then-Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, of the state-led effort.
Two years later, as chairman of the budget committee, Ryan became known for another PowerPoint presentation -- a slide show on the federal government's ballooning debt. In that pitch, Ryan touted his budget plan, which includes a vow to "end corporate welfare."
Now Ryan's plan and his salesmanship have helped him become GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate. The choice has thrilled conservatives who view him as a symbol of unwavering fiscal austerity and delighted Democrats who see him as a radical ideologue.
Neither characterization fits Ryan's effort to save the GM plant in his district. Despite his paeans to free
Ryan was closely involved in a task force that helped craft two incentive packages with large state tax breaks for GM, and personally lobbied GM executives to accept the bids.
"I would say Congressman Ryan did what a good member of Congress would do for his district," Doyle said. He added that like many other Republicans, Ryan made sure to "complain about the so-called stimulus and bailouts while also lining up to make sure their districts were getting taken care of."
Ryan's record of seeking federal money for his district came under close scrutiny last week after he denied and then acknowledged requesting money available under the $789-billion stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2009. Ryan had voted against the bill, and decried it as wasteful. In a statement Thursday, he said constituents' requests for stimulus funds "should have been handled differently."
A Ryan aide, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue, said that although Ryan's proposed budget plan promises to take the federal government "out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace," he makes a distinction between what is appropriate for the federal and state governments. Ryan believes states are free to compete for business as they see fit, the aide said.