Are Republicans Facing A Backlash Over Ryan Plan And Medicare Changes?
There are signs that the Ryan Plan isn't playing well with the public.
With Congress out of session until early May, many Congressman and Senators are back in their districts meeting with constituents, and many of the Republicans members are encountering people who don’t seem all that thrilled about the Ryan Plan and the changes in makes to Medicare:
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In central Florida, a Congressional town meeting erupted into near chaos on Tuesday as attendees accused a Republican lawmaker of trying to dismantle Medicare while providing tax cuts to corporations and affluent Americans.
At roughly the same time in Wisconsin, Representative Paul D. Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget proposal, faced a packed town meeting, occasional boos and a skeptical audience as he tried to lay out his party’s rationale for overhauling the health insurance program for retirees.
In a church theater here on Tuesday evening, a meeting between Representative Allen B. West and some of his constituents began on a chaotic note, with audience members quickly on their feet, some heckling him and others loudly defending him. “You’re not going to intimidate me,” Mr. West said.
After 10 days of trying to sell constituents on their plan to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans in multiple districts appear to be increasingly on the defensive, facing worried and angry questions from voters and a barrage of new attacks from Democrats and their allies.
The proposed new approach to Medicare — a centerpiece of a budget that Republican leaders have hailed as a courageous effort to address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems — has been a constant topic at town-hall-style sessions and other public gatherings during a two-week Congressional recess that provided the first chance for lawmakers to gauge reaction to the plan.
Public perception of the Ryan Plan is, or at least ought to be, a big concern for the GOP. After all, a good deal of the support that put them over the top in the 2010 midterm elections came from older voters, including some who were opposing the President’s health care reform plan because they believed it was a threat to their Medicare coverage. So the Republicans are taking a huge political risk by backing a budget plan that includes changes to what is probably the most popular “entitlement” program that the Federal Government funds. The best example of that risk can be seen in the reception that greeted freshman GOP Congressman Daniel Webster, who made a name for himself when he defeated Alan Grayson in a Florida Congressional district that includes a large number of retirement communities:
A town-hall meeting held in Orlando by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster degenerated into bedlam Tuesday, with members of the crowd shouting down the freshman Republican congressman and yelling at one another.
It could be a sign of things to come for Webster, a staunch conservative in a competitive district that Democrats hope to recapture in 2012. Last week, Webster took heat from conservative tea party members for not pushing hard enough to cut the federal budget.
But Tuesday, the heat came from the other side.
The event was the last of a series of town-hall meetings Webster has held during Congress’ spring recess, which ends Monday. While the others were civil and largely uneventful, the 300 people at Tuesday’s meeting were so raucous they were scolded by a police officer to act “like grown people.”
Webster tried to go over a series of charts showing growing levels of federal spending and debt and the reason he supports the federal budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But he was interrupted at every turn by shouts from critics that included members of progressive groups such as Moveon.org and Organize Now.
Tuesday at the Orange County Agricultural Extension office in Orlando, boos and shouts of “liar” were mixed with angry accusations that Ryan’s plan to change Medicare would leave those now younger than 55 without health insurance in their retirement. There also were calls to eliminate the tax cuts first put in place by then-President George W. Bush and to raise corporate taxes rather than cut entitlement programs.
Others in the crowd began yelling at Webster’s critics to quiet down, at one point with the chant “Let him talk!” But the meeting frequently devolved into multiple arguments — some of them heated — between members of audience.
When Vietnam veteran Ron Parsell yelled that he wanted to know why Webster was cutting Medicare and veterans’ benefits, his answer came from the audience instead.
“We can’t afford it, you moron!” a red-faced man screamed.
Two Orlando police officers moved to the front of the room and flanked Webster and pleaded for decorum when the congressman could no longer be heard.
“It’s not going to be solved by yelling and screaming and hollering,” one officer said. “Let’s conduct ourselves like grown people.”
The meeting never turned violent, and no one was asked to leave. Webster appeared flustered at times but remained calm and never raised his voice.
“This is the most competitive part of the district, and I expected it to be a competitive crowd,” Webster said when the dust had settled. “There’s nothing wrong with that. … There’s nothing wrong with the clash of debate at all, nothing.”
Another freshman Republican from Florida, Allen West, has also faced serious opposition at his town hall meetings. The architect of the Ryan Plan has also faced opposition during his hometown Town Halls:
At four town hall meetings throughout Ryan’s district Tuesday, some constituents applauded him for his courage to tackle economic problems but others expressed concern about what the Medicare changes would do — to themselves or their grandchildren.
“The problem is, under your program, when you want to give me X amount of dollars, with the insurance companies, the way they operate … if I can’t afford insurance, then where am I going to be?” asked one 62-year-old woman with a history of cancer who worried she wouldn’t qualify for private insurance coverage under Ryan’s plan.
George Kauffman, an 80-year-old man from Kenosha, didn’t make it into Ryan’s town hall meeting before capacity was reached. The former auto union worker and then small-business owner said he is skeptical about Ryan’s promise that Medicare benefits for those 55 and older won’t change.
“When you let your foot in the door, it’s easy to adjust things later,” he told POLITICO.
The attention is much more than Ryan has been used to. Before the Kenosha meeting, the dozen “regulars” at the Lake Geneva, Wis., town hall meeting were shocked to see well more than 100 people turn out. Down the road in Paddock Lake, the meeting room reached capacity of 75 people before it was due to start and several constituents and reporters were left outside.
Ryan told the crowds that it’s a larger turnout than he saw during the infamous health care town halls during summer 2009.
The 2009 town halls, which gave the Tea Party movement serious momentum, nearly derailed the entire legislative process for health care reform, and arguably set the stage for the Republican victories in the 2010 mid-terms are an obvious comparison to what’s happening now. For the moment at least, it doesn’t seem that anything close to what we saw back then is taking root, but it’s clear that political organizers on the left are clearly hoping that it will, and that the Ryan Plan has put the senior vote in play:
Democrats still smarting from their 2010 mid-term defeat see Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to overhaul Medicare as political aspirin, a cure for just about everything that ails them.
But for Barack Obama it’s more like Geritol — a targeted treatment for his chronic aches and pains with older voters.
Obama’s 2008 campaign was fueled by youthful enthusiasm and billed as a generational upheaval. But older voters, especially white working-class conservatives, were not a natural hope-and-change crowd, and he lost among seniors by nine points to John McCain. Many of them simply stayed home.
That skepticism, bordering on hostility, has carried over to his presidency.
Over-65 voters have given Obama the lowest marks of any age cohort in every weekly Gallup presidential approval survey taken since Obama took office. Last week, only 36 percent of seniors approved of his performance, seven points less than Obama’s overall approval rating and 12 points lower than his positive rating among 18-to-24 year-olds.
But Ryan’s plan, embraced by most Republicans, gives Obama a big opportunity in 2012 to regain lost ground in key battleground states and narrow the generation gap. “It finally gives us an argument to make with seniors… It’s a godsend,” said a Democratic operative allied with Obama who sees the issue as a way to make up lost ground with seniors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Florida.
Will it work? It’s hard to say. As noted above, President Obama has had a puzzling problem connecting with elderly voters from the very beginning and the Affordable Care Act turned them into Republican voters in 2010 (although, ironically, many older voters didn’t seem to realize that Medicare is itself a “government run health plan”). At the same time, these voters have always been skeptical about any plan to reform Medicare, so one think that they wouldn’t be very happy with the Ryan Plan. Surprisingly, though, a new Gallup poll seems to show older voters more sympathetic to the Ryan Plan than President Obama’s plan:
Of course, these numbers are likely to be very different when you start asking about specifics, and the fact remains that, like the rest of the public, older voters are essentially evenly divided over which plan is better.
So, the answer to the question that forms the title of this post is, it isn’t clear yet. On the whole, it may well be the case that the GOP won’t face much of a backlash over the Ryan Plan, but that individual members of Congress, especially vulnerable freshman like West and Webster, could find themselves in trouble in 2012 if it turns out that the one age group that can always be counted on to vote decides that the GOP has crossed the line.