Paul Ryan, the Phony Fiscal Conservative

While Paul Ryan has cultivated an image as a fiscal conservative and budget hawk, his advocacy on behalf of for-profit colleges, a scam which siphons $32 billion a year from taxpayers, tells a somewhat different and frightening story.

In a recently discovered letter sent to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and signed by Paul Ryan back in 2010, Ryan advocated against proposed gainful employment rules – regulations proposed by the Department of Education (DOE) meant to protect students and taxpayers from unscrupulous for-profit colleges by requiring that trade schools demonstrate that their graduates earn enough to service their loans for three years after graduation.

At no point in the letter did Ryan raise concerns, as others have, about deceptive marketing and recruiting strategies; low graduation rates; high student loan default rates; or the use of federal money for lobbying, advertising, law suits and lavish executive compensation.

The following is an excerpt from Ryan’s September 9, 2010 letter to Duncan and the DOE:

“As members of Congress from the State of Wisconsin, we are united in our support for students’ access to quality education that helps build a robust, skilled workforce within our state. Because many of our constituents have voiced concerns that the proposed rule will negatively affect our state’s students and workers, we request that the Department allow ample time to consider these concerns and the results of the pending GAO [General Accounting Office] study before implementing the Gainful Employment regulation.”

The Ryan letter to the DOE is testimony to the fact that his image as a deficit hawk is little more than a callous charade, a hoax perpetrated on a uninformed public. Ryan’s posturing as a fiscal conservatism, in fact, is meant to conceal the real Ryan agenda – dismantling the modern nation state, destroying the public commons in favor of privatization – all in an effort to increase wealth for Wall Street and the 1 percent. In terms of for-profit colleges and universities, the decades of destroying public education through economic starvation have helped to create the material conditions for the decimation of the public commons, leading to the growth of for-profit, low-quality privatized educational services at considerably higher prices.

Read More: The Public Intellectual Project

In his letter to Duncan, Ryan might as well have been copying from a list of talking points from The American Legislative Exchange council (ALEC).

Ryan’s advocacy on behalf of for-profit colleges demonstrates his true constituents and cohorts are his corporate financial backers, not the citizens or students of his Congressional district – or of the country, for that matter. It is also noteworthy and should be no surprise that ALEC sponsor Koch Industries is one of the top five donors to Ryan over his entire Congressional career.

A cursory review of Ryan’s 2012 contributors reveals that his real constituents include health insurers, investment bankers like Goldman Sachs and the reactionary Koch Industries. Three health insurance companies are among his top donors for 2012: Blue Cross, United Health and Cigna. Over his Congressional career, Blue Cross is among his top ten donors.

His proposal for Medicare vouchers, another for-profit insurance scam, suggests that Ryan’s Medicare “reform” proposal has nothing to do with financial conservatism or deficit reduction and everything to do with transferring public monies to Wall Street.

This habit of treating his donors as his sole constituents may explain the proposal in the Ryan budget to cut Pell Grants by $170 billion dollars. Ryan also supported allowing student loan rates to double to 6.8 percent on July 1. That would affect 7.5 million students.

Ryan’s advocacy for for-profit colleges, as expressed through his letter to Duncan, exposes his hypocrisy. What Ryan really wants is to cut funding from public education and direct public funds to for-profit colleges.

As students can expect billions in cuts for education while for-profit colleges deliver a subprime education, if the Ryan Medicare proposal goes through, taxpayers can expect decreased quality health care at increasingly higher prices.

Paul Ryan is a caricature of what is wrong in Washington. Relatively small amounts of money can now purchase coin-operated politicians and buy public policy – all to the detriment of the public and the commons.