Republicans who used seniors’ rage over health care changes to sweep into office last fall are now facing the same type of heat over the same issue: Modifications in Medicare and Medicaid.
Many who voted for the plan House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., laid out to privatize the programs in future years have been in constituents’ crosshairs during Easter recess town-hall meetings. Others have simply avoided meeting with constituents.
All but four House Republicans voted in favor of Ryan’s plan. House Republican leaders plan to hold a conference call with members Tuesday. Republicans with knowledge of the call say that it has long been scheduled, but that part of the call will be spent discussing ways to discuss the vote with constituents. One source says it’s intended to help swing-district members "who have been getting the crap kicked out of them."
Many freshman Republicans won their seats last fall because seniors, concerned about changes to Medicaid and Medicare included in President Obama’s health care plan, broke in big numbers toward their party. Seniors gave Republicans a 59 percent to 38 percent edge in 2010, a sharp increase from Republicans’ 53 percent to 45 percent advantage in 2008.
Now, some freshman Republican House members who were swept into office on that wave of hostility are facing the same experience.
Freshman Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., represents a district that gave Obama 57 percent of the vote in 2008 but has one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the country. Constituents criticized him for his support of the Ryan plan in a recent town hall meeting. One constituent accused him of trying to “destroy Medicare.”
The first six questions Rep. Charlie Bass, R-N.H., faced at his town hall last week were also on the Ryan plan, and some constituents were unimpressed with his responses. Bass holds a district that voted for both Obama in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004.
Ryan himself faced hostile constituents at a town hall meeting last week. He was booed for proposing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthy and faced pointed questions about his Medicare and Medicaid proposals. His district, too, went narrowly for Obama in 2008.
Many other Republican congressmen in swing districts decided against holding town halls during this congressional recess, instead opting for more low-profile events.
Seniors worried about changes in their health coverage helped send a historically large Republican freshman class to Washington in 2010. Those same seniors, with similar concerns, could bring them back home if they remain upset through Election Day 2012.
Major Garrett contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the April 25, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.