Left hopes for town-hall rage of its own

If video of angry constituents haranguing members of Congress over healthcare reform captured the tone of that policy debate, Democrats and their allies hope similar clips will emerge in 2011 to define the coming battle over Medicare and entitlement reform.

Left-leaning groups pushed the idea last week that Americans all over the country are outraged at Republican legislators and have been confronting them at town halls to voice their opposition. 

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In emails and press statements, Democratic organizations have trumpeted examples of town-hall meetings where Republican legislators were criticized by constituents. An email sent out by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) press office on Thursday cited a recent town hall in which House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was booed while discussing his deficit-reduction plan. 

"Even Chairman Ryan’s constituents don’t approve of his plan to deliver tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while ending Medicare," the email read. "At a recent town hall in Wisconsin, Chairman Ryan was booed as he defended his budget’s continuation of low taxes for the richest people in our country."

On Friday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee published a roundup of town-hall events titled "Town Hall Meeting Alert: House Republicans Under Fire For Voting to End Medicare." The roundup described town halls around the country as ones where Republicans faced "tough questions" about their support for the Ryan budget.

An email from the liberal organization Americans United for Change listed recent town halls under the headline "House GOP Facing ‘Angry,’ ‘Booing,’ ‘Tough Crowds’ Back Home After Voting to End Medicare, Give Millionaires Another Tax Break…" 

A handful of Republicans were asked pointed questions from their constituents at town-hall meetings last week, including freshmen Reps. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) and three-term Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). 

But those confrontations — measured in numbers and vitriol — have not yet matched the passion seen at healthcare town halls in 2009.

One attendee at a Meehan meeting Wednesday accused the congressman of voting to abolish Medicare with his vote on the Ryan budget bill, CNN reported.

"Did you not vote for Paul Ryan's bill?" the attendee asked. "Well, that is to abolish Medicare and give people some money. It will not be the Medicare that we know." 

But Meehan shot back, saying "No ma'am, I did not vote to abolish Medicare. And that is factually untrue."

Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) cut short a presentation on the federal deficit at a town-hall meeting he held last week after audience members began firing questions at him about the Ryan budget and its changes to entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security, according to the The Daily Herald, a Chicago-area newspaper.

Senior citizens in the audience expressed their discontent with turning Medicare into a voucher program, calling the change a “shell game” that would bog senior citizens down with uncertainty in dealing with private healthcare companies.

In a town-hall event Wednesday held by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), an audience member was removed after he became loud and disruptive.

Moveon.org sent an email to residents in Barletta's district that asked them to attend the congressman's town hall to "ask the congressman why he voted for a budget that puts millions of seniors, children and people with disabilities at risk of losing their health care, so we can give millionaires trillions in tax cuts.”

The group did not ask its members to disrupt the event.

An article in the Allentown Morning Call compared the recent town halls to the highly confrontational meetings in 2009 over healthcare legislation, describing the recent events on the GOP's budget as "reminiscent" of the healthcare events. 

But there are differences between this year’s early examples and the sustained string of events in 2009. 

The town halls that liberal organizations and Democrats have been touting haven't been nearly as crowded as those in 2009. And none of those being touted as examples of extreme public discontent with the Ryan budget have gotten so heated that violence could have broken out. 

By contrast, in 2009, event organizers at a town hall in Florida threatened to cut the event short when attendees began violently pushing and shoving each other between stints of heckling.

This article originally misstated the gender of an attendee at Rep. Lou Barletta's town-hall event. The attendee escorted out of the event was male.

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