Saturday, April 23, 2011

When a Tough Question is Deemed Disruptive

Think Progress has the story: More Republican Congressmen Face Town Hall Backlash Over Tax Breaks For Wealthy And Medicare Privatization.
Earlier this week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) held town halls across his district to defend his budget’s plan to end Medicare and extend tax cuts for the wealthy. During a stop in Milton, WI Ryan’s constituents made their feelings apparent, booing down the seven-term congressman when he defended tax breaks for the rich, as Think Progress first reported. Yesterday, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) received the same hostile reception from his constituents for voting to end Medicare.

Here's Ryan during a town hall meeting where he is asked a question about his budget.

During a town hall meeting in Milton, a constituent who described himself as a “lifelong conservative” asked Ryan about the effects of growing income inequality in our nation. The constituent noted that huge income disparities contributed to the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and thus wanted to know why the congressman was “fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire.”

Ryan argued against “redistribut[ing]” in this manner. After the constituent noted that “there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down,” Ryan argued that “we do tax the top.” This response earned a chorus of boos from constituents:

CONSTITUENT: The middle class is disappearing right now. During this time of prosperity, the top 1 percent was taking about 10 percent of the total annual income, but yet today we are fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire? And we’re fighting to not raise the Social Security cap from $87,000? I think we’re wrong.

RYAN: A couple things. I don’t disagree with the premise of what you’re saying. The question is what’s the best way to do this. Is it to redistribute… (Crosstalk)

CONSTITUENT: You have to lower spending. But it’s a matter of there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down.

RYAN: We do tax the top. (Audience boos). Let’s remember, most of our jobs come from successful small businesses. Two-thirds of our jobs do. You got to remember, businesses pay taxes individually. So when you raise their tax rates to 44.8 percent, which is what the president is proposing, I would just fundamentally disagree. That is going to hurt job creation.


This town hall backlash is now spreading to other districts across the country. As Huffington Post reports, freshmen Reps. Robert Dold (R-IL) and Charlie Bass (R-NH) got an earful from their constituents for voting in favor of the Republican budget this month. During a Buffalo Grove, IL town hall, Dold caught a lot of flack for supporting corporate tax breaks and voting to end Medicare:

But Dold couldn’t even get to the end of the presentation before audience members began peppering him with questions about the Ryan budget, named after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin. It began with audience members telling Dold they don’t believe chopping 10 percentage points off the highest corporate tax rate will create jobs. A handful of people in the audience identified themselves as business owners and accountants who said their effective corporate income tax rate is already lower than the lowest rates proposed in the Ryan plan. They pointed to companies such as GE that pay almost no taxes despite billions in profits as evidence. [...]

Some in the audience then told Dold they don’t like the idea in the Ryan budget plan of Medicare becoming a voucher program that makes senior citizens buy private health insurance about 10 years from now. Audience members said buying private insurance is a shell game where no one really knows what costs a company will cover or to what degree.

Here is Rep. Lou Barletta (R- PA) trying to support his position in support of Ryan's budget while being asked tough questions:

Barletta spokesman Shawn Kelly said that the activist who challenged the Congressman at a town hall, Linda Christman, deliberately set a raucous tone as part of a coordinated effort by Democrats to disrupt the event. Linda Christman merely charged that Rep. Barletta didn't run on changing Medicare but then voted to change the Medicare system.

Christman dismissed the suggestion that she was part of an organized effort.

“I’ve been politically active in this community for a long time and I had heard that Rep. Barletta had voted for the Ryan budget. As far as being part of a larger group, there was only one other person there that I knew.”

She said the group had emailed her and encouraged her to attend.

“I got an email from, saying they were trying to get people to go. I don’t think they were very successful. There were only one or two people there who raised objections.” did send an email to local activists encouraging them to attend the town hall. However, the email contained no mention of disruption. This was the call to action:

“Late last week, Representative Lou Barletta voted in favor of gutting Medicare and Medicaid. Join us on Wednesday, April 20 to ask the congressman why he voted for a budget that 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.”

It makes one wonder who are politicians representing. Do they want a town hall meeting comprised of solely those people who don't question their political positions? Are we at a point where asking questions and supporting a political position is called 'organized' and 'disruptive'?

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