Republican Lawmakers Face Angry, Confused Constituents on Medicare, Budget Cuts

Some GOP lawmakers are confronted by angry constituents over Medicare, budget.

ByABC News
April 22, 2011, 4:15 PM

April 25, 2011— -- The backlash that some Republican members of Congress are facing in town hall meetings over their 2012 budget proposal rings a familiar bell.

In August 2009, Democrats across the country faced rowdy, YouTube-worthy protesters as they tried to sell the health care plan.

As Republican members take to the road during their two-week break from Congress to try and sell the budget proposal crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, they are facing similar questions, though the outcry thus far has not yet escalated to the level that their Democratic counterparts faced.

Americans are particularly concerned, and somewhat confused, about the proposal to overhaul Medicare, a central feature of the Wisconsin congressman's proposal.

Under the plan, starting in 2022, senior citizens would be able to shop for coverage on insurance exchanges set up by their state, but instead of the federal government paying for every service as it currently does, each Medicare beneficiary would be allotted a certain amount of money based on their income.

The age of Medicare eligibility would increase by two months every year until it reaches 67 in 2033.

"What you're doing with this Ryan budget is you're taking Medicare and you're changing it from a guaranteed health care system to one that's a voucher system where you throw seniors ... on the mercy of for-profit insurance companies," railed one attendee at a town hall held by Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Penn.

In New Hampshire, Rep. Charlie Bass heard similar complaints.

"This is just salt in the wound," a constituent told the freshman Republican.

Ryan, who has emerged as the GOP's leader on budget issues, himself hasn't been immune. At one town hall meeting last Tuesday, the House Budget committee chairman was booed after getting into a brief confrontation with one attendee about income equality and the middle class.

Other town halls, where constituents praised him for his efforts -- even calling on him to run for president -- made up for it. But the message remains the same: Americans have yet to fully digest what the plan would mean for them.

Republicans argue that the overall tone of the town halls is calm, with the exception of some isolated incidents, and that the town halls are much more civil than what Democrats encountered a year and a half ago.

Barletta's town hall last week turned rowdy and one person had to be escorted out after a woman raised the Medicare issue. His aides said that the woman was a Democratic operative who was intentionally trying to stir the pot and that of the 50 people who attended, only two mentioned Medicare.

"I don't think there's any comparison to 2009 at all," Barletta's communications director, Shawn Kelly, told ABC News. "We have not seen similar reaction, and the rowdiness that took place was directed at people who were disrupting the meeting and not letting the congressman answer the question. It was not directed over the Ryan plan or the proposed Medicare plan."

Democrats themselves blame the rowdiness of the 2009 town halls to Republican hecklers and operatives who they say were behind the wave of angry protestors. Now, they are seizing on the discontent on the other side, and strategists say liberal lawmakers should use the opportunity to tout their own deficit reduction plans.

"What you're seeing is an awakening, so to speak, of the majority of Americans who are now concerned about the budget priorities of the Republican Party," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist and interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. "This attempt by Republicans to cut the deficit on the backs of seniors and middle-class Americans is producing the same level of backlash that we saw last year when people took to town hall meetings to express their disapproval of the health care bill."