By SAM HANANEL, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has been one of the harshest critics of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan. But months after Congress approved the nearly $800 billion package, the Wisconsin lawmaker was trying to steer money under the program to companies in his home state.
Rep. Ryan wrote letters in 2009 to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grant money for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies. One of them, the nonprofit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., later received $20.3 million from the Energy Department to help homes and businesses improve energy efficiency, according to federal records.
In a letter to Chu in December 2009, Ryan said the stimulus money would help his state create thousands of new jobs, save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That contrasted with his public statements denigrating the stimulus program as a "wasteful spending spree." It also conflicts with his larger federal budget proposal, which would slash Energy Department programs aimed at creating green jobs.
Ryan's office says his budget plan "calls for getting Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers in the economy — and that includes our energy sector."
Ryan's actions in Congress and as chairman of the House Budget Committee have been drawing fresh scrutiny since he was named last weekend as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate.
A Ryan spokesman, Brendan Buck, noted the congressman's office's previous explanations that he was "providing a legitimate constituent service." The Wall Street Journal reported Ryan's efforts to secure stimulus money two years ago.
"If Congressman Ryan is asked to help a Wisconsin entity applying for existing federal grant funds, he does not believe flawed policy should get in the way of doing his job," Ryan's office said then.
Ryan also sent three letters to Chu in October 2009 seeking stimulus money for the Energy Center of Wisconsin, another nonprofit organization that promotes energy efficiency. The company later received $190,000 in stimulus money to conduct research on geothermal heating and $50,000 more to develop a training curriculum for students at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Ryan's letters to the Energy Department were first reported by the Boston Globe.
"It's another example of how he talks out of both sides of his mouth," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. "It goes to show that their energy policy always has been, and probably always will be, disingenuous."
The vice presidential contender is not alone among Republicans who criticized the stimulus plan only to seek money later. Georgia's Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, for example, blasted the bill as a bloated government giveaway yet asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to steer $50 million in stimulus money to a constituent's bio-energy project.
Ryan's views are also consistent with his running mate's long-held position that the stimulus was a flawed idea that did not create private sector jobs.
"That stimulus didn't work," Romney said at an Ohio speech in June. "That stimulus didn't put more private-sector people to work."
Yet, in Ryan's letter to the Labor Department in October 2009, he backed the Energy Center of Wisconsin's grant application for stimulus money "to develop an industry-driven training and placement agenda that intends to place 1,000 workers in green jobs."
The company did not win the Labor Department grant.
Frank Greb, president of the Energy Center of Wisconsin, said the company sought help from the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation, a practice he described as routine. He said other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — also sent letters in support of the grants.
"I'm not surprised that any congressman would be supportive of entities within his district if he saw merits in the work and it was going to be beneficial to constituents," Greb said.
Ryan's budget proposal would cut billions in Energy Department funding for the development of clean energy and eliminate loan programs that have helped support 60,000 jobs, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.