By Alison Bauter
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, long-identified as the Congress' budget and fiscal policy wonk, is deviating from the usual PowerPoint.
Influenced by the tide of national debate, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and longtime local congressman strayed from his traditional territory of taxes and budgets this week to preview the upcoming congressional battle on immigration reform and to address constituent questions on gun control, among other issues.
Ryan's 1st congressional district includes all of Racine County. This is the first series of listening sessions since the congressman's failed vice presidential bid and his eighth consecutive congressional victory in November.
Holding listening sessions Tuesday in Burlington and Wednesday in Racine, Ryan opened with his trademark PowerPoint slideshow presentation before answering constituent questions.
Ryan told reporters Wednesday that he wanted to reform the current immigration system "because it's broken, not for any political reasons."
During the listening sessions, Ryan emphasized that the changes he supports "are not amnesty."
Reform should start by securing the border, enforcing existing laws through an "e-verify" identity database and creating a "workable, legal" system for future immigration, Ryan said. And all of that should happen before processing illegal immigrants through a probationary, earned legalization process, he said.
The bipartisan immigration reform package would grant citizenship to large numbers of people living illegally in the United States, but Republicans in the House are expected to resist the reform package despite Ryan's support.
Particularly at Wednesday's Racine session, gun control supporters spoke up, questioning their congressman's lack of support for bills that would have expanded background checks and banned semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.
To each, Ryan pointedly prefaced his response by "agreeing to disagree" before sticking to his guns on the weapons ban, saying he believed his views match those of the majority of his constituents.
"These are legitimate weapons used for legitimate reasons," including self-defense, target shooting and hunting, Ryan said.
On background checks, Ryan said he supported extending existing checks to online sales and gun shows, but opposed a failed Senate bill on the issue.
That bill had good ideas but overreached, and would have created a "slippery slope" to a federal gun registry, he said.
Adoption for gay couples: Ryan previously voted against allowing gay couples to adopt, but he now says he'd support the measure, if it includes exemptions for religious adoption organizations who choose to opt out.
Online sales tax: Having a brick-and-mortar store collect sales taxes when online competitors don't is unfair, Ryan said. "I'd like to find a way to address that inequity without giving the government the power to expand taxing authority beyond that intent."