It’s been a common refrain of politicians in Washington for as long as the capitol has been unpopular: “It’s good to get outside the Beltway, good to go get back to the real America.” But in recent days that cliché might feel a bit stale for Republican House members, who voted last month for Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Inside the Beltway, Ryan is called “courageous,” a “visionary,” a “serious man,” for having the bravery to put forth a budget that pays for tax cuts for the wealthy by ending Medicare as we know it. Back home in his district, he’s becoming known as the leader of the most serious assault on seniors since President Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security.
In April, Ryan was greeted, not with the outsized praise of New York Times columnist David Brooks at his town hall in Milton, Wisconsin, but instead, with sustained boos. On Friday, according to Politico, he asked police to remove a man from his town hall because the man refused to stop yelling about the impact the Ryan budget would have on Medicare.
He’s not alone. In New Hampshire, the first six questions posed to Representative Charlie Bass (R-NH) were about his vote in favor of Ryan’s budget. “I’m not surprised it’s controversial,” said Bass of his vote. But for a man who won his seat during the 2010 Republican wave by a little more than 3,000 votes, it’s an open question as to whether his career can afford such controversy.
In addition to Ryan and Bass, at least six other GOPers have faced pointed questions and outright protest at town halls, reminiscent of the tea party anger seen at Democratic town halls in 2009. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) arrived at his town hall greeted with signs that said “Hands Off Medicare.” The meeting became so contentious that police officers intervened to quiet the crowd. The New York Times described one such town hall as approaching “near chaos.” The Orlando Sentinel described another as reaching the level of “bedlam.”
Already, some members are backing away from their votes. By the end of Charlie Bass’s town hall, he already seemed to be wavering. “If there are certain facets of the budget that are manifestly unpopular, I think that should be taken into consideration.… this is the beginning of a long conversation.” How manifestly unpopular is Ryan’s plan for Medicare? A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that more than 80 percent of all Americans disapprove of cuts to the program. A whopping 70 percent of Republicans opposed them, as well, making it one of the most unpopular positions supported by a national party in modern memory.