Wisconsin Democrats stepped up their attacks Thursday against Janesville Congressman Paul Ryan in the wake of his vice presidential acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
They claimed that during Wednesday night's speech, Ryan falsely blamed President Obama for the closure of the General Motors plant in Janesville.
In a statement, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold criticized Ryan. The two men are from Janesville and rarely, if ever, lob attacks at one another.
"Unfortunately, Paul Ryan has turned a bipartisan effort to save the GM plant in Janesville into a dishonest, partisan attack on President Obama," Feingold said in a statement issued on the letterhead of his political nonprofit, Progressives United.
"Rep. Ryan knows the same facts I do: despite the work of Wisconsin's congressional delegation, GM announced the plant closure during the Bush administration," Feingold said.
The local Obama campaign distributed a copy of a June 3, 2008, letter on congressional stationery that was sent by Feingold, Ryan and U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) to Rick Wagoner, who was then GM's chairman.
"We are deeply disappointed by GM's announcement that the company will close the plant in 2010," the letter said, as the politicians asked for GM to reconsider the decision.
The last GM vehicle rolled off the Janesville assembly line in December 2008, about a month before Obama's inauguration.
In his acceptance speech, Ryan said, "A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you . . . this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008."
Ryan continued, "Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
During a Thursday interview with CNN, Ryan did not back away from his remarks on Janesville's GM plant.
"Well, it's still idle," Ryan said. "The point is, this is the story of the Obama economy -- a man running for president in 2008 making all these grand promises and then none of them occurring. He got elected. He put his policies in place and the plant still shut down."
Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said Ryan has "taken on a new role. Paul Ryan has run campaigns in the past and been able to present his vision and not be the attack dog that obviously the Republicans want him to be.
"I think the issue that startled me most was the Janesville plant," Barca added. "There's no mistake what date that closed down. . . . Clearly you can't blame President Obama for something that occurred prior to him taking the oath of office."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also blasted Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, for how he described the president's commission on government debt.
In the speech, Ryan said Obama "created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing."
Ryan did not mention he served on the commission and -- like all House Republicans -- voted against its final report.
Durbin, who as a commission member voted for the final report, said he couldn't understand how Ryan could vote against the plan and then criticize the president for not taking up the report's recommendations.
Ben Sparks, the spokesman for the Mitt Romney campaign in Wisconsin, said in a statement: "Instead of admitting that his policies have led to record unemployment, debt that puts our economy at risk, and programs that have grown government at the expense of the private sector, President Obama continues to double down on the same false attacks and policies that have done nothing to fix our economy."
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