House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was confronted during a listening session in Racine, Wisconsin Wednesday.
Frank Thorp/NBC News

Paul Ryan feels the heat back home

Updated
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) kicked off a nine-stop Wisconsin listening session tour last night, and by all appearances, the tour is off to a difficult start. There are two main angles to this.
 
The first is the Republican congressman’s ongoing efforts to deal with his on-air comments last week, when he connected poverty to “inner-city” men who are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” The comments did not go unnoticed by some of his constituents.
Alfonso Gardner, a black man from Mount Pleasant, Wisc., asked the House Budget Committee chairman about his recent remarks…. “The bottom line is this: your statement wasn’t true, that’s a code word for ‘black,’” Gardner told the former vice presidential nominee during a listening session in Racine, referring to Ryan’s use of the term “inner city.”
 
Ryan responded: “There was nothing whatsoever about race in my comments at all, it had nothing to do with race.”
 
“Sometimes when you’re on radio you try to take a bunch of ideas and collapse it into a couple sentences and you oversimplify, and it can be misinterpreted, that’s what’s happened here,” the Wisconsin congressman added.
Ryan added that his central concern is the “incentives” in place for “people not to work.” He didn’t specify which incentives he had in mind, but given the lawmaker’s record, Ryan probably meant anything that can broadly be defined as “welfare.”
 
Gardner, unimpressed, responded, “If you didn’t mean this, you wouldn’t have said it, OK? People don’t say something that they don’t mean.”
 
Ryan was also asked about health care, where he seemed to struggle even more.
 
Scott Keyes noted that one voter applauded the Affordable Care Act, which is saving him a lot of money, and criticized House Republicans’ incessant attempts to repeal the law.
…Ryan defended his party’s repeal votes – 51 in total – noting that some of them only aimed to chip away at particular parts of Obamacare. “We didn’t have 51 votes to repeal it altogether 51 times,” Ryan said. “That’s sort of this urban legend.”
The fact that Ryan was defensive at all on the subject is noteworthy – it suggests even high-profile Republican leaders feel a little sheepish about the dozens of repeal votes that make up the ridiculous repeal crusade. Note, Ryan could have boasted about the 51 votes – and if the law were really so unpopular, he would have – but instead downplayed the legislative record to appear less radical.
 
And Ryan’s not the only one. Conservative Byron York published an item a few days ago making a similar argument: the House GOP’s record of repeal votes has been exaggerated, he said.
 
By York’s count, House Republicans have voted 54 times to repeal all or part of the federal health care law, but they only voted six times to destroy the law in its entirety.
 
Those figures may well be correct, though I’d note (a) trying to gut the law is pointless, since House Republicans already know these bills won’t become law, which is true whether they vote one time or 52 times; (b) voting six times to destroy the entirety of the law sounds like an awful lot when Congress has real work to do; and (c) after five years of behind-closed-doors negotiations, House Republicans can’t produce their long-awaited alternative, suggesting they’ve invested a little too much time in pointless repeal votes and not enough time in taking governing seriously.
 
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Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan feels the heat back home

Updated