Facing constituents angry about GOP plans to kill Medicare and slash Social Security, Republican lawmakers across the country are screening questions ahead of time at town hall meetings, holding “invitation only” gatherings, or deciding not to meet with voters at all.
Following an embarrassing meeting with constituents that was televised nationally, House budget chair Paul Ryan had to face angry voters at a second town hall in his Kenosha, Wis., district this week.
As he entered he had to make his way through a crowd of protesters chanting, “Ryan stop lying!” and then people in the capacity crowd interrupted him as he tried to defend his budget plan.
“If you’re yelling, I just want you to leave,” Ryan told his constituents. “We’ve got media here. Let’s prove to them that Wisconsinites can be cordial to one another.”
Reporters were unable to interview Ryan after the meeting because he slipped out a different door than the one where he had entered and drove away in a vehicle different from the one in which he had arrived.
Similar scenes are taking place at other Republican town halls, including in key states like Pennsylvania and Florida.
GOP freshman Rep. Daniel Webster’s town hall meeting in Orlando, Fla., April 26 was a case in point. Webster tried to use charts and graphs to explain the Republican budget he voted for, but he could barely be heard over angry shouts about the GOP Medicare-gutting proposal.
One constituent held up a sign saying “Keep your hands off my Medicare,” and another shouted that Webster voted to give corporations a tax cut “but take away Medicare from people like me.”
In response to the wave of protests they are encountering, Republican legislators are pre-screening questions from constituents.
On April 26, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., screened questioners by requiring constituents to fill out index cards which were then vetted by his staff.
Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio tried to distance himself from at least parts of his own House Republican budget. He said this week he was “not wedded” to Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program.
“Paul Ryan has an idea that’s certainly worth consideration,” Boehner said. “I’m for it. It’s our idea. It’s Paul Ryan’s idea. Now other people have other ideas. I’m not wedded to one single idea.”
Under the Ryan plan Medicare would be destroyed and replaced with a program that would subsidize the cost of buying private insurance through an exchange.
President Obama underlined this in his April 13 speech on the deficit.
With Ryan’s plan, the president said, “Ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you would have to pay $6,500 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck, you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.”
The upsurge against Republican lawmakers goes well beyond the spontaneous and growing protests at town hall meetings.
In Iowa, for example, major organizations like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans, Iowa Citizen Action Network and the Iowa Federation of Labor are working together, in overdrive, to save Social Security and Medicare.
As a result Republican lawmakers in that state are being deluged with demands that they explain their support for the Ryan budget and that they pledge to oppose any cuts to Social Security. Thousands of voters are signing pledges not to vote for them next time unless they sign on to protect Social Security.
The Alliance for Retired Americans is teaming up with Strengthen Social Security and other groups to sponsor rallies, ads and lobbying campaigns in defense of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Retirees are dressing up in work clothes and demonstrating what it means to “Work ‘Til We Die.”
This week New Hampshire ARA members put on hard hats and crutches to tell Republican Rep. Frank Guinta that his vote in favor of the Ryan budget would keep people working much too late in life. People using wheelchairs and walkers joined the demonstration. At StrengthenSocialSecurity.org the public can learn about ongoing demonstrations against the Republican budget proposals.
The latest Washington Post polls show Americans oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare and that they support President Obama’s call to raise taxes on the rich. In the poll, 78 percent oppose the Ryan plan to cut Medicare.