At town halls across the nation during the current two-week congressional recess Republicans are taking the heat like they may never have taken it before.
Angry about the GOP budget, the rich not paying their fair share in taxes, and Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security, among other things, constituents are telling their Republican lawmakers that they are disgusted with their performance.
In a swing district in Michigan, Republican Rep. Dan Benishek was faced down by angry seniors holding signs saying, “Save Medicare.” The sign-waving seniors pushed their way into the meeting even after aides tried to limit the number allowed in.
Benishek couldn’t even get through his opening remarks before seniors began calling him on the carpet for his backing of the Ryan budget. They blasted the Ryan plan, saying it would drive up health care costs and leave them with nothing but increasingly worthless vouchers.
“If you have a better idea, I’d be happy to hear it,” he told the seniors. Probably sorry he ever made that remark, he was barraged with suggestions on how to increase Medicare funding: People in the audience shouted “End the oil subsides!” and “Raise taxes on the wealthiest two percent!”
In trying to quell the disturbance, Benishek then displayed what attendees felt was a shocking lack of knowledge. “There are no government subsidies for oil ,” he declared. His claim, patently false, was followed by laughter and jeers.
When the discussion turned to health care Benishek, who was a medical doctor before he was elected to Congress in 2010, told the audience that the U.S. has the best health care system in the world. When they broke out into laughter he insisted, “We have the highest life spans in the world.”
Women in the crowd jumped up and pointed out that many countries in the world have a higher life expectancy and that, in fact the U.S. ranks 50th just behind South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among the countries with higher life expectancies are most countries in Europe and Canada.
Republican attacks on health care and even on the federal government itself raised the ire of constituents at many of the meetings across the country.
In New Hampshire, Republican Congressman Charlie Bass tried to tell voters that much of what has been publicized about the Ryan budget is “mischaracterized.”
“What I’ve heard is that it will end Medicare as we know it,” said a nurse from Charlestown.
Another constituent took issue with Bass’s attacks on the federal government.
Larry Converse, 69, from Claremont said he was worried about losing his Medicare coverage. Converse worked in the polishing department of the Sturm, Ruger & Co. gun maker and said that government assistance had helped to keep his family together. “If it weren’t for the federal government, we wouldn’t have survived,” Converse said. “There were five kids. We depended on surplus food. That is the only thing that kept us going.”
At a town hall in Aitkin Minn. this week Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack listened to the story from a woman who described how big a struggle her family had to conduct to pay for her 8-year-old son’s bone marrow transplant. “That’s a great story,” he replied, ignoring her question about why his party wanted to kill the National health Care Act.
In Palm City and Jensen Beach Fla. Republican Rep. Allen West carefully screened his meetings to keep out any opposition. Groups like Occupy Martin County, an anti-tea party group named CREDO SuperPac and Stand Up Florida threw picket lines up outside both town hall meetings, however. They shouted out questions and remarks that could be heard inside during the events.
Photo: Medicare and Medicaid supporters rally March 27 in McAllen, Texas. Joel Martinez/The Monitor/AP