Paul Ryan's spending votes get a second look

Republican vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a campaign event at Miami University on August 15 in Oxford, Ohio.
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Updated at 12:48 p.m. ET

(CBS News) As a congressman in a comfortably safe Wisconsin district, Rep. Paul Ryan voted for some expensive initiatives while building a reputation as a serious conservative. But now that he is Mitt Romney's running mate, some of his ideological inconsistencies are now coming under the microscope.

Ryan came under fire this week after reports surfaced that Ryan requested stimulus funds for Wisconsin businesses even as he lambasted President Obama's $787 billion initiative as a waste of money. The congressman initially denied requesting the funds, but later Thursday evening said his office did make make the requests on behalf of the businesses. His office mistakenly treated the issue like any other "constituent service" request, he said, and "should have been handled differently."

The Obama campaign on Thursday seized on the issue, sending out an official press release with the reports of Ryan's initial denials.

The Obama campaign also this week cast Ryan as a flip-flopper after the Republican congressman said, "Mitt Romney and I are going to crack down on China cheating. And we're going to make sure that trade works for Americans." Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the president's re-election team, noted that Ryan voted against a bill in September 2010 authorizing the Commerce Department to impose duties on imports from countries with undervalued currencies such as China. "Just a few days after being picked as Romney's vice presidential candidate because of his 'ideas,' it's unfortunate and troubling that he so quickly abandons them," Kanner said.

The intense focus on Ryan's record is new for the congressman -- Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), a firm that analyzes political advertising, noted that more ads are released in one quiet week of the presidential campaign than have aired in the span of several of Ryan's last congressional races.

While Ryan saw little negative advertising in his comfortable district, the League of Conservation Voters did in 2011 attack him for supporting "big oil" and accused him of supporting the industry to line his own pockets. The ad opens with Ryan agreeing with a constituent that oil subsidies need to stop before voting to support them.

Now that the Obama campaign has set its sights on Ryan's policies, there are plenty of other votes they can target: Ryan in his 14 years in Congress has voted for pricey intiatives, as Politico notes, like the Bush-era tax cuts, the $700 billion bank bailout, the expansion of Medicare and the highway bill that included the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere."

In 2003, Ryan broke with other conservatives to back the Medicare Modernization Act, which gave seniors prescription drug benefits at a cost initially estimated at $400 billion over 10 years. Uwe Reinhardt, a health care economist at Princeton University, noted to CBS News this week that Ryan voted for a program "which gave the elderly a huge new entitlement and put it all on the tab from here to kingdom come." Reinhardt argues that Ryan's current plan for overhauling Medicare won't control health care costs.

In 2008, Ryan voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to bail out the banks -- a move he later told the Daily Caller "wasn't a fun vote."

"In order to prevent a Depression and a complete evisceration of the free market system we have, I think it was necessary," he said.

Ryan also explained to the Daily Caller why he voted for loans to help the auto industry, even as Romney and other Republicans called it a bad move. The congressman said the Obama administration told Congress they had the choice of giving the auto industry loans or expanding TARP for the industry.

In response to the new scrutiny over Ryan's voting record, the Romney campaign points back to President Obama's own record and Ryan's efforts to find solutions.

"Under President Obama, America has racked up record debt and experienced an unprecedented downgrade of our credit, while seniors have seen Medicare cut by more than $700 billion," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. "We can't afford any more of the President's broken promises. That's why Congressman Ryan has worked in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to our debt crisis."