OPINION: Republicans face voter wrath over Ryan budget ax

Republicans return from recess this week having experienced an Easter revelation. The question now is do they believe what they saw from voters?

What they witnessed was hostility aimed at their budget-cutting plans. The anger poured out during town-hall meetings in Republican districts. The crowds, largely made up of senior citizens, openly and loudly challenged their representatives on the GOP budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and passed by the House before the recess.

The jeers and catcalls are not what the GOP House leadership promised members when they corralled 235 Republicans to vote for the Ryan plan. The message back then promised that the voters who swept Democrats out of the majority in the 2010 midterms would celebrate Republicans for cutting the budget and fulfilling the will of the people.

This is the same message that came from the Tea Party Caucus of GOP freshmen who pushed the nation to the edge of a government shutdown to insist on greater cuts to the 2011 budget.

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But while polls show voters trust Republicans more than they trust Democrats to reduce the deficit, they also show that President Obama’s deficit reduction plan is slightly more popular than the Ryan proposal. Polling also consistently shows the majority of Americans are adamantly opposed to cutting Medicare to reduce the deficit.

And when Republicans went face-to-face with voters they did not get the laurels they were expecting.

Even Ryan got booed by his constituents at town hall meetings across his district in southeastern Wisconsin.

One person shouted, “You lie!” as the Budget Committee chairman talked about the future of Medicare. Another shouted, “What are you hiding?” when Ryan showed them a graph about his budget plan. Democrats have already announced plans to target Ryan’s seat, which he has held for a decade, in 2012. His swing district voted for Barack Obama in 2008. 

Ryan is not alone. Other long-serving GOP members got an earful from their constituents last week. Republican Rep. Wally Herger’s hometown paper in Redding, Calif., reported a constituent interrupted him a la Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), saying: “You lie. That’s a lie.”

“It seems like you’re only focusing on one half of the problem,” the constituent contended. “You’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and sick people.”

House Democrats think they see an Easter miracle in the making in which the seniors who voted so strongly for the Republicans in 2010 shift back to Democrats in time for 2012.

Many of the Republicans who faced tough questions from their constituents were freshmen in swing districts that have been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).  Freshmen members like Reps. Jaime Herrera-Buetler (R-Wash.), Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) have been targeted by the DCCC with phone call campaigns and advertisements blasting them for voting for the Ryan budget. Their hometown newspapers report a backlash against all three members at public meetings over their votes.

And the reason for the blowback is that Ryan’s budget ends Medicare, the program where the federal government pays healthcare providers to treat elderly Americans, and replaces it with a voucher program where seniors are given money to help pay for private insurance. It also reduces taxes on the wealthiest Americans to their lowest levels since the 1930s. It cuts taxes on corporations while giving big tax breaks to oil companies.

Despite its long-term insolvency, Medicare remains very popular among seniors whose lives literally depend on it. There was no cost-of-living adjustment from Social Security in 2011. The cost of healthcare continues to rise along with the costs of everything from food to energy. Without Medicare, many senior citizens will not afford the care they need.

The Democrats are all too happy to play to the anxiety caused by the Republican proposal. They are ramping up the old “Medi-scare” campaign. Only this time, with the radical proposals by Ryan and the Tea Party Caucus, they have real boogey men.

The Republican response during the town halls was to frame the Ryan budget as the way to “save” Medicare from insolvency rather than a plan to cut it. But the Ryan budget saves Medicare only in the sense that it repeals the current program and replaces it with a voucher that eliminates guaranteed health coverage for seniors.

Some Republicans are doubters. They claim the vocal opposition at the town-hall meetings was “Astroturf” as opposed to grassroots opposition. They point to Moveon.org sending out emails to encourage critics of GOP budget cuts to show up at the town halls. But the polling is anything but “Astroturfing.” The anger and anxiety there is real.

So, as the Republicans return from Easter break the big question is do the Republicans believe what they saw from voters and change their plans? Or do they believe nothing has changed since the 2010 midterms?

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.


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