By Frank Schultz
Rob Zerban came to Paul Ryan's hometown Wednesday to repeat his call for a debate, but a Ryan spokesman said Ryan is busy running for vice president, and it's too early to commit to a congressional debate.
Zerban is the Democrat who is challenging Ryan in the 1st Congressional District race. He delivered to Ryan's Janesville campaign office what he said were 53,328 signatures calling for a debate.
Among the signers, 10,509 are from Wisconsin, and the campaign does not know how many of those are from the 1st District, a Zerban spokesman said.
Ryan is running simultaneously for Congress and for vice president and is scheduled to debate Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, Oct. 11.
"The voters in this district deserve to hear his positions. The voters in this district deserve a debate," Zerban said in a statement he read in Lower Courthouse Park before delivering the petitions to Ryan's campaign office.
Zerban isn't alone. Libertarian Keith Dreschler is calling for a debate Oct. 29 at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha.
Zerban said Wednesday he would welcome a debate with Dreschler as well as Ryan.
"Don't take us for granted, even if you do have a substantial lead in the polls in this district, Mr. Ryan," Dreschler said.
A Ryan spokesman sent an email response, saying that it's early for Ryan to respond, as the suggested dates for a debate are Oct. 25 and 29.
Spokesman Kevin Seifert went on to note that Joe Biden did not debate his Senate opponent when he was running for vice president in 2008, and neither did Joe Lieberman in 2000.
"It seems Congressman Ryan's opponent would rather stage stunts calling for a debate than actually explain positions on critical issues and articulate solutions to the problems we face as a nation, which is what Congressman Ryan has spent the last 14 years doing," Seifert wrote.
Asked to respond, Zerban said: "Congressman Ryan has debated all of his previous challengers, and I think that the people in the 1st District deserve the same courtesy this time, especially since he never campaigned on making Medicare a voucher program, so I think he should come back and answer the questions directly in the form of a debate."
Seifert responded in an email that Ryan has explained his proposal in local "town hall" meetings and that Ryan's "premium-support" plan is not a voucher system.
"Paul Ryan has taken the time to explain to voters that his Medicare reforms would make no changes for individuals in or near retirement and would empower future seniors to choose from a list of guaranteed options, including traditional Medicare," Seifert wrote. "Congressman Ryan has proposed protecting and strengthening Medicare with affordable choices and additional support for those in need and believes we need to guarantee the promise of Medicare for current and future generations."
Seifert said he'd like to hear Zerban's plan for saving Medicare from going insolvent.
Zerban said the Racine Journal Times, Kenosha News and Capital Times have called for a debate, among others.
Zerban decried Ryan's proposed budget, which he said would lead to decreased funding for the Veterans Administration.
Asked for his plan to address government debt and spending, Zerban responded:
"I think it's a little bit disingenuous for Congressman Ryan to try to position himself as some kind of fiscally responsible legislator when he is actually the person who voted for two unfunded wars, voted for the largest expansion of Medicare Part D, which was a big gift to Big Pharma, which also was unpaid for, and then two unfunded Bush tax cuts. So the reason we're in this mess is because of what Paul Ryan supported in the past."