Two seek to unseat Ryan
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The 1st Congressional District is experiencing something unheard of in this century: a serious challenge to Rep. Paul Ryan.
Janesville Republican Ryan has served the district for 14 years.
Rob Zerban, a former small businessman and former member of the Kenosha County Board, has mounted a serious and well-funded campaign to unseat Ryan.
Ryan's campaign cash far outstrips Zerban's, however, and Ryan is using it to stay on residents' minds with TV commercials.
Making things more interesting, Ryan also is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate.
Wisconsin law allows voters to vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket and also for Ryan for Congress. If Romney wins, and Ryan wins his House seat, a special election would be called to fill the seat.
Zerban has repeatedly attacked Ryan for declining to debate him. Ryan has made few appearances in the district this fall but has gotten plenty of attention on the national level.
Also on Tuesday's ballot is a Libertarian, Keith Deschler of Racine, who also called for debates.
The three candidates were asked to respond to these questions. The Ryan and Zerban campaigns submitted written responses.
Q: What's the most important long-term issue Congress must address, and what's your solution?
Deschler: "It's the fiscal and economic health of this country. We have to get the budget balanced as soon as possible."
Deschler said the government should get out of areas that could be better handled by the private sector, such as Medicare, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
"We have to get a lot smaller government—if we could even get it down by 40-50 percent over two or three years," Deschler said.
Deschler agrees with Ryan about the dangers of government debt, saying that Ryan "talks a good game, but he's so much a part of the Washington establishment that he can't propose that much change that fast."
Ryan's proposals don't balance the budget for many years and don't even touch defense, Deschler said, adding: "That's not going to work. We need to cut and cut substantially."
Deschler suggests getting rid of the departments of Education, Homeland Security, Transportation and Labor.
Deschler wants to abolish taxes on income over two years and enact the "fair tax," a tax on consumer goods.
Ryan: "Tackling our $16 trillion national debt is one of the most important challenges our nation faces."
Ryan said it is wrong to leave our children and grandchildren "a future of debt, doubt, and despair" and that for too long, too many in Washington have been more concerned with their next election than the next generation.
Ryan said he offered leadership and specific solutions to pay down the debt with his "Path to Prosperity, a budget for the federal government that would get our economy growing and save hard-working taxpayers' money by reducing spending."
Ryan said his budget proposal, "showed how the federal government can live within its means and keep the promises made to citizens through programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security."
Ryan said his budget cuts $5 trillion in spending over 10 years, ends the Obama administration's four-year pattern of trillion-dollar annual deficits, and eliminates our burden of debt. It reforms federal government programs so they are more efficient and effective while also making our tax code fairer, simpler, and competitive.
Zerban: "Middle-class families are reeling from falling wages, rising prices and an increasing concentration of wealth at the top. We need to grow our economy from the middle out, and create new jobs while ensuring a strong future for the middle class.
"My plan calls for investment in roads, bridges and better schools in order to cultivate a workforce prepared for the demands of a new century and give our businesses a competitive edge overseas."
Zerban said he would keep middle-class tax credits intact while ending corporate subsidies for Big Oil.
Q: What's your solution to the question of what to do about the sequester, or "fiscal cliff," the $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in Jan. 1, 2013?
Deschler: "I propose they have a session between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get it done."
Congress "needs to talk with the people who really have in their heart of hearts the understanding of waste, fraud, mismanagement, duplication and the pre-emption of state and local governments and the private sector."
Ryan: "The brave men and women in our armed services should not pay the price for Washington's inability to get spending under control. Allowing the sequester to occur would be a failure of leadership and a failure to govern."
Ryan said he supported legislation that included "spending reductions to more than offset the cost of the sequester." He has called on the Obama administration to detail how the proposed cuts would affect defense.
With respect to the looming tax increases, Ryan said he supported legislation that would extend the current tax rates for a year, "because the last thing Wisconsinites need is another tax increase" and "so Congress can have the time and opportunity to work in a bipartisan fashion on reforms that make our tax code fairer, simpler, and more competitive."
Zerban: "Once I'm elected, I will use every tool at my disposal to ensure we avert these devastating cuts. Especially amidst such a fragile recovery, Americans cannot afford to let right-wing partisans hack away at our economic security.
"By re-electing the president and sending Congress a majority of lawmakers open to compromise, our country can find other ways to reduce the deficit and blunt the disastrous impact of the fiscal cliff."
Zerban supports rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 per year, removing waste from the defense budget and taxing income from stocks and bonds at the same rate as earned wages.
Q: Do you agree the last Congress failed to compromise when it should have, and describe a compromise you would be willing to make in order to make progress?
Deschler: "I'd be willing to compromise. … I could slow things down a little bit."
But that's not to say he won't pursue his goals of paying down the debt and getting entitlement programs "under control."
Deschler said he might compromise on the timing of getting rid of the income tax.
"Gradualism is good to a point, but in the situation we are in right now, I think we need to push further to get the spending under control."
Ryan: Ryan said he has put his cards on the table and has encouraged others to do the same. He thinks that's how compromises can best be reached.
Ryan said compromises "have been elusive," but he said he continues to work with Democrats to develop consensus on meaningful reforms. For example, he notes working with Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to pass the Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescission Act, which would allow the president to cut wasteful spending.
Zerban: "If we want to change Congress, we need to change the people we send there. For more than a decade, Paul Ryan has been part of the gridlock problem, putting his pledge to Grover Norquist (never to raise taxes) above his oath to the Constitution and refusing to compromise no matter what the circumstance.
"I would wholeheartedly endorse any deficit reduction plan that offered $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue generation, in the interest of reducing our debt and putting the American people first. That's the right way to break gridlock."
Q: What should be done to maintain the solvency of Medicare and Social Security?
Deschler: "I want to phase them out over time, I think over a generation."
In the meantime, Deschler would reduce entitlement programs to help the people who need them the most and move the well-to-do off those programs with means testing.
Baby boomers rely on these programs, but those younger than 40 have time to save once the fair tax is enacted, Deschler said. Meanwhile, Social Security could be privatized. Medicare would become a voucher program, and money not spent in Medicare could be funneled into a person's Social Security account, where it would be invested for a "decent" return.
Ryan: Ryan said lawmakers must act if Medicare is going to deliver on promises made to current and future seniors. He notes his budget proposal proposes no Medicare changes for those in and near retirement.
For future seniors, Ryan proposes "premium-support payments" and a list of guaranteed coverage options, including traditional Medicare, so they can choose a plan that meets their needs.
"These reforms, along with common-sense ideas like competitive bidding and providing greater assistance for those with lower incomes and greater health care needs, will ensure the government keeps the promises it has made through this critical program."
Zerban: "We need to take steps to ensure that Medicare and Social Security continue to exist for future generations. But privatizing them and breaking our promise to seniors is a cure worse than the disease. ...
"For Social Security, the fix is simple: raise the cap for high-income earners. That one step would keep Social Security solvent for generations.
"For Medicare, we can start by allowing our government to negotiate lower costs for prescription drugs, and end $40 billion in subsidies to oil and gas corporations who don't need our tax dollars to survive. That will allow us to expand Medicare and keep it solvent for generations without draconian cuts."
For Deschler, race a statement
A third-party candidate is nearly always at a disadvantage, but Keith Deschler's case is extreme.
The Racine man is not only running for Congress against two well-funded candidates from the major parties, but he's running against the man who is perhaps the most recognized Republican in the country after Mitt Romney, Rep. Paul Ryan.
Deschler, 54, has run before, for state Assembly on the Libertarian ticket.
"The Libertarian Party of Wisconsin needed some candidates for office, and I was able to run this time for Congress," he said. "It is a personal statement, to stand up for a balanced budget, smaller federal government across the board, civil liberties, a non-interventionist foreign policy. These are things that neither Rob Zerban (the Democratic candidate) or Paul Ryan advocate very strongly, or not at all."
Deschler is a line worker and line leader for Warren Industries, which makes packaging products. He's a former member of Toastmasters and sings in his church choir. He holds a bachelor's degree in religion-liberal arts from Carthage College and an associate degree in accounting from Gateway Technical College.
Deschler agrees with Ryan that the national debt is among our most serious problems, but he faults Ryan's budget ideas, saying they would add another $11 trillion to the national debt before balancing the budget by 2040.
"Zerban never mentions a time frame to balance the budget and spends a lot of time promising never to cut the big-ticket entitlement programs like Medicare that are soon going bankrupt if nothing is done to reform them," Deschler said.
Deschler said he hopes to influence the debate and move both major parties to give their answers to his agenda.
His agenda includes reducing the federal budget to 2002 levels, replacing the tax code with the so-called FairTax, reform entitlement programs and convert federal programs to block grants to the states.
Deschler also subscribes to Libertarian ideas of substantial cuts in military spending, decriminalizing drugs, repealing the USA Patriot Act and ending the Federal Reserve.
Deschler would not immediately decriminalize drugs, as some Libertarians advocate.
"I tend to say decriminalize," starting with marijuana, he said.
He notes approvingly how Colorado is gaining tax revenue from medical marijuana, which he said is boosting the economy.
"I think that's the kind of thing we have to work towards," he said, adding that laws would stay in place so children would not be allowed to possess marijuana, and driving under the influence of any drug still would be illegal.
"For us, it's a matter of you control your life, and you control your body," he said. "It's an affront to personal liberty to tell you what you can and can't do."
Like Zerban, Deschler has been calling for a debate, something Ryan has so far rejected.
Deschler said if Ryan wins both the vice presidency and the 1st District seat, Deschler would run in the special election to fill the House seat. Zerban declined to say whether he would do the same.
Address: 12392 Monroe Ave., Racine.
Job: Line worker/line leader at Warren Industries, since 1980.
Volunteer organizations: Various offices with the Belle City Toastmasters Club, 1994-2008; Served on church councils and various committees in previous Lutheran parishes and sang in church choirs. Now a senior choir member at Grace Lutheran Church, Racine.
Education: Associate degree in accounting from Gateway Technical College in 1980. Graduated cum laude from Carthage College with a bachelor's degree in religion-liberal arts, 1993.
Elected posts: Ran unsuccessfully in 2002, 2004, and 2008 for state Assembly in the 62nd District.
Address: P.O. Box 771, Janesville, WI 53547.
Job: U.S. Representative for 1st Congressional District
Education: Bachelor's degrees in economics and political science from Miami University of Ohio.
Community service: None
Elected posts: Elected to House of Representatives since 1998. He was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the last Congress.
On the Web: ryanforcongress.com
Address: 5406 2nd Ave., 3B, Kenosha.
Education: Culinary Institute of America, associate degree in culinary arts.
Job: Founded Corporate Dining Services LLC, which he ran from 2000-07, and 3rd Coast Catering, 2002-08.
Community service: Member of the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, 2008-11.
Elected posts: Kenosha County Board of Supervisors 2008-12.
On the Web: facebook.com/RobZerban