By John Nichols
Paul Ryan is busy positioning himself as the Republican Party's point man on behalf of austerity.
The House Budget Committee chairman has positioned himself as a high priest speaking unfortunate truths about debts and deficits, the unforgiving foe of social spending who would gladly sacrifice Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the altar of debt reduction.
Ryan has branded himself well, so well that he has parlayed himself into contention for his party's vice presidential nomination.
To get that nomination, however, Ryan must count on the prospect that the party that takes as its symbol the memory-rich elephant will suddenly suffer a spell of forgetfulness.
That's because the Republican congressman from Janesville, for all his bluster, is anything but a consistent advocate for fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets.
He is, in fact, a consistent big spender -- at least when Wall Street, the insurance industry and the military-industrial complex call.
A steady vote for unwise bailouts of big banks, unfunded mandates and unnecessary wars, few members of Congress have run up such very big tabs while doing so little to figure out how to pay the piper.
How has Ryan gotten away with his fool-most-of-the-people-most-of-the-time politics?
For the most party, he has until recently flown under radar -- dazzling fellow Republicans with fiscal fancy footwork, while dancing around weak Democratic opposition in his home district.
But no more.
This year, Ryan is being called out by an able challenger with actual experience in the private sector, as well as local government.
Rob Zerban, the congressman's Democratic challenger, is not fooled by Ryan's budgetary blathering.
Zerban is familiar with Ryan's record.
And he is calling the budget committee chairman out on his "faux fiscal credentials."
"Congressman Paul Ryan can grandstand about the debt all he wants, but at the end of the day, Ryan is a root cause of many of the financial issues our country faces today," says Zerban.
"From supporting two unfunded wars, to dumping millions of senior citizens into the Medicare Part D 'donut hole' while tying the hands of the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, and from fighting for subsidies for Big Oil that his family personally benefits from, to supporting the unfunded Bush tax cuts for his wealthiest campaign contributors, Paul Ryan's hypocrisy is astounding."
Even as national Republicans "vet" Ryan as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney, Zerban is revealing the reality of a congressman who may talk the talk but who has never walked the walk.
"Congressman Ryan fell down on the job, and is now trying to push the blame for his bad policy decisions onto President Obama," says Zerban. "Congressman Ryan had 10 years in Congress -- almost all with a House Republican majority -- to reduce the deficit, prior to President Obama's election. He did nothing."