WASHINGTON — Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a fiscal conservative and critic of federal handouts, has sought for his constituents in Wisconsin an expansion of food stamps, stimulus money, federally guaranteed business loans, grants to invest in green technology and money under President Barack Obama's health care reform law.
Such requests are at odds with Ryan's public persona as a small-government advocate and tea party favorite who has pledged to tighten Washington's belt.
The Associated Press reviewed 8,900 pages of correspondence between Ryan's congressional office and more than 70 executive branch agencies that it obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. They showed that for 12 years as a member of Congress, Ryan has sought from the federal government money and benefits that in some cases represent the kinds of largess and specific programs he is now campaigning against.
As Mitt Romney's running mate, Ryan calls those kinds of handouts big-government overreaching. He tells crowds he supports smaller government and rails against what he calls Obama's wasteful spending, including the president's $800 billion stimulus program.
"The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst," Ryan said during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. "You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal."
And during Thursday's vice presidential debate, Ryan said the stimulus amounted to "$90 billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special-interest groups."
But Ryan's constituents benefited from stimulus spending and other government-assistance programs, according to AP's review. Ryan once told federal regulators that cutting a stimulus grant for a town in his district at the 11th hour would be "economically devastating."
Much of Ryan's correspondence is similar to other lawmakers performing constituent duties, describing problems that residents have reported. They include requests such as assisting a family missing airline baggage and helping a man who didn't receive a pancake maker he had ordered.
But in other correspondence, Ryan explicitly supports programs and encourages federal agencies to take actions. He supported in his congressional letters some Wisconsin farms' share of an $11.8 million loan guarantee, but later criticized other loan guarantees, such as the $535 million loan that went to now-defunct solar panel maker Solyndra. He asked transportation officials for a grant for green technology and alternative fuels, although his proposed budget as House budget chairman called loans for electric car development "corporate welfare."
He's also supported federal money to help a Kenosha, Wis., community center cover health care costs of low-income families under Obama's health care reform law — the very program he and Romney say they will repeal if they win the White House.
Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said AP's findings represented a member of Congress helping people in his district. "Part of being a congressman is vouching for constituents and helping them navigate the federal bureaucracy when asked," he said.
Among the ways Ryan went to bat for his constituents, as detailed in his correspondence:
—A Kenosha, Wis., community center's grant proposal under the Food Stamps Access Research program, to educate families about the nutritional benefits of food stamps. Ryan said in a 2002 letter the program would increase the enrollment of eligible individuals in the program by providing laptop computers to pre-screen applicants. Ryan's budget proposed cutting food stamps by $134 billion over 10 years, although his spokesman said he "has always made clear we need a strong safety net."
—Letters offering support or forwarding requests for projects funded by stimulus money. Ryan's May 2009 letter to a regional Environmental Protection Agency office asked for its "full consideration" in awarding grant money to an organization under the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program, which reduces diesel emissions.
Ryan also wrote to the EPA in 2009 on behalf of a small town trying to secure $550,000 in stimulus money for utility repairs. Ryan, whose staff requested meetings with the EPA about the matter, said the rescinding of the grant "would be economically devastating" to Sharon, Wis., since it already began spending the money. (The EPA said project costs were incurred before October 2008, making the project ineligible for stimulus cash.) Ryan has also voiced support for millions in EPA grant money to clean up abandoned building sites in Wisconsin towns.
—A 2002 Department of Agriculture loan guarantee to develop a pork-packing and processing plant for farms in the region, including some in his district. The new factory appeared to be "state of the art" and worthy of funding, he said, adding: "It is my hope that the USDA will reach a favorable decision" on the application for a 60 percent federal loan guarantee toward a $19.7 million loan.
—A Kenosha health center's request to use money under Obama's new health care law to help meet health care needs of "thousands of new patients" who lack coverage. Ryan's December 2010 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, first reported by the Nation magazine and also obtained by the AP, appears at odds with his pledge to repeal "Obamacare."
—Support for a grant for the Historical Society in Milton, Wis., from the National Park Service for $271,000 in order to preserve a Civil War-era home. Ryan supported the plan in 2002, saying historical artifacts inside the former transfer point for slaves "have aged to a point where aggressive preservation and restoration is needed to save them." Meanwhile, he's supported recent cuts to the federal budget that would invariably affect national parks.
The AP obtained requested documents from nearly every executive branch agency, although many have been slow to provide any relevant files. Some Obama administration agencies declined AP's request to quickly turn over materials even though they involve an election that's just weeks away.