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Angry Town Halls Continue to Dog House Republican Supporters of the Ryan Budget

If Republicans aren’t starting to get the impression that they severely miscalculated by passing the Ryan budget, the media has come around to noticing. Witness this story from the paper of record.

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.

Here’s some background on the the Daniel Webster town hall, which looks just completely chaotic from the word go. Paul Ryan is finding hostile overflow crowds wherever he goes. And then there’s the Allen West town hall, where radio host Nicole Sandler was arrested.

Predictably, Republican lawmakers are calling for civility all of a sudden, forgetting about the August 2009 town halls overrun with tea partiers. Nowhere can I find statements about how “the American people are just making themselves heard” and that “this is just the Democratic process in all its messiness.” But I kind find plenty of instances of Republicans screening questions and ducking out of town halls in secret. That’s when they’re holding them at all.

The only thing surprising about this is how unorganized it is. Democratic groups have basically been asleep at the switch while they watched individuals with initiative confront their representatives. There’s no FreedomWorks of the left driving this stuff. You’re witnessing anger and frustration because people are actually angry and frustrated about the prospect of privatizing Medicare and block-granting Medicaid. That’s particularly acute in states where right-wing Governors prepared the ground with their extreme agendas. Paul Ryan being from Wisconsin is not helping him at this point.

House Republicans have been thrown backwards by this, and this is one issue that Democrats actually understand how to exploit. Harry Reid should bring the Ryan budget up for a vote, and he probably will. And we’re going to get an early test of the potency of this argument in a special election in New York:

With less than a month left until the special election to succeed former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.), Democrat Kathy Hochul is going up with an ad slamming Republican Jane Corwin for her support of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget.

“Jane Corwin said she would vote for the 2012 Republican budget that would essentially end Medicare. Seniors would have to pay $6,400 more for the same coverage. But the plan Jane Corwin supports would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans,” the ad says.

“Kathy Hochul says cut the deficit but do it in the right way. Protect Medicare. And no more tax breaks for multimillionaires.”

I’m not going to endorse the “cut the deficit but do it the right way” pivot, but this is a conservative district where Hochul really shouldn’t have much of a shot. She’s pinning her hopes on Medicare… and a third-party challenge from right-winger Jack Davis. This is a very senior-heavy district – 15% of the population – and a good test case for this message. The election is May 24.

I don’t know if I’d go so far to say that the senior vote is in play for 2012. But it wasn’t so long ago that seniors favored Democrats mainly because of these retirement security issues. It wouldn’t take much to move that back. A referendum on the Ryan budget is exactly what Democrats want.

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David Dayen

David Dayen