By Charlene Bielema and Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Editor, Herald Staff Writer
With a debt clock ticking over his shoulder, Congressman Paul Ryan shared his economic message with Clinton-area residents Tuesday morning as he seeks the nation’s vice presidency.
About 600 people turned out at the event in front of the Clinton County Courthouse, where a large screen posted numbers about the nation’s debt and other economic data as Ryan detailed what he believes are flaws with President Barack Obama’s administration.
He pointed to an unemployment rate that has hovered over 8 percent for the past several months, and a debt crisis underscored by $16 trillion in national debt.
While acknowledging Obama inherited an economic mess when he took office, Ryan said Obama has failed to put the economy back on the right track.
“We can’t afford another four years like the last four years,” said Ryan, who is the running mate of Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
He pointed to an overhead screen that showed economic data about the nation’s debtload.
“Forty-eight percent of our debt is owned by foreign governments, China number one,” Ryan said “For every dollar that our government spends today, 36 cents of that is being borrowed, and about half of that is from countries like China. This means we have to rely on foreign governments to lend us their money to finance our government. We can't keep doing this. We have to put this to an end. We have to stop this because we lose our sovereignty and our independence and our ability to chart our own future.”
The gathering was a town hall format in which questions were asked by audience members.
An Air Force veteran who began serving right out of high school in 1965 tearfully talked about how he was taxed twice on his social security monies: “I live off of social security, $1,000 a month, and I cannot understand why this country I gave my life for feels that they should tax me twice for social security. They already taxed me for that and they take one-third of it back when they give me that check.”
Ryan explained there is a tax on social security benefits the veteran was talking about and that Ryan has consistently acted to repeal the tax.
“We think it is a wrong tax because you’ve already paid tax on that,” he said.
Ryan also used his time to talk about the future of social security and Medicare and the importance of preventing those programs from going bankrupt.
“Then current seniors get hurt,” he said.
Of social security he said, “For my generation it is bankrupt, for my children’s generation it is bankrupt,” he said, explaining the reform for which he is advocating would affect only those who are 54 and younger and would protect those 55 and older. He said doing nothing means a 25 percent across-the-board benefit cut will go into effect when Social Security goes bankrupt.
“You need leadership to take this one,” he said, adding Romney will provide the leadership to make the necessary changes.
His plan to shore up Medicare would be similar in that it would not change benefits for people 55 and older and reform would affect those who are younger.
He also spoke about the Keystone Pipeline, about which Ryan said that on day 1, the pipeline would be approved.
“Day 1 we say yes to Keystone,” he said. “There is no good reason to reject this proposal.”
Ryan said he also would work to improve educational opportunities by giving parents more choices for their children, would pursue new trade agreements and control federal spending.
Ryan made reference to the Midwestern roots shared by him and his wife, Janna, whose mother was born and raised in Clinton. Ryan said Midwesterners live within their means, and that the federal government needs to do the same.
“It’s making sure you live within your means. In Midwestern culture, you save, you don’t waste,” he said.
Following the town hall style meeting, Ryan and his family stopped at his wife Janna’s grandparents, Adelaide and Dr. Vernon Petersen’s former home on Pershing Boulevard.
The home, where Janna’s mother Prudence Petersen grew up, is now owned by Todd and Sarah Gravert, who live there with their two sons, Ty, 8 and Ben, 5. The couple said they were in disbelief last Wednesday when they received the call asking if the Republican vice presidential candidate and family could visit their home.
“At first, I didn’t believe it,” Todd said. “We were surprised and shocked.”
Sarah said she was very open to the idea of having Ryan, Janna, the children and other family members in her home, which the couple purchased from Janna’s grandparents in 2002.
The morning of the visit, Sarah said she was a little nervous about having what felt to her like 40 or 50 people, along with the media, milling throughout the home.
When the Ryan tour bus pulled up outside the red and white two-story home, the Graverts welcomed the family and the anxiety faded.
“They were very appreciative,” Sarah said. “The kids were all playing together.”
Inside, Janna and her sisters Molly and Dana found the height markings that were left on the side of a kitchen cabinet. Among them, the marks measuring Janna from the time she was a baby until she was in high school in 1987. Ruler in tow, her husband measured her against the 1987 marking. The Graverts had planned to renovate their kitchen, which would have removed the marked cabinets.
“There were just names on the wall,” Sarah said. “We always wondered who they were.”