Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Washington Post Morning Fix: A town hall revolt redux?

A town hall revolt redux?

By Aaron Blake

Over the past few days, we’ve been treated to stories about hecklers, overflow crowds and even “bedlam” greeting Republican members of Congress at town hall meetings in their home districts.

Democrats have only been so happy to point out the rough time some members are having after voting to drastically reform Medicare as part of the House Republican budget proposal.

And as the string of stories mounts, the comparisons to the summer of 2009 are unavoidable. Back then, it was health care that motivated hecklers and created scenes across the country as Democrats tried to explain their support for President Obama’s plan.

Democrats say the town halls of today hark back to that time two years ago, and even some Republicans have hinted at the similarities.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reportedly said this week that the crowds he’s seeing are larger than the ones he saw during the health-care debate. (It could partially be because Ryan’s name is most synonymous with the budget.)

And Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) reportedly commiserated with the man he defeated, former representative Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), while getting his own town hall grilling: “Now I see why my predecessor didn’t want to do town halls.”

But is history repeating itself?

The answer is that we don’t know yet, but it certainly could.

The Medicare issue actually polls much more unpopularly than the health-care bill ever did (65 percent opposed the Ryan changes in the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll). Yet it’s similarly close to people’s pocketbooks and personal well-being, so it’s going to arouse plenty of emotion.

At the same time, there are some things working against a return to the summer of 2009.

One is that, while there have been hecklers, there’s also been plenty of people willing to shout them down. Look at town halls held by Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) — two cases often cited by Democrats — and you’ll see the hecklers being combated by the rest of the crowd.

As Dave Weigel notes, the 2009 town halls often seemed more unbalanced, with hecklers stealing the show and the rest of the crowd sitting idly by.

Republicans say the reason is that many in the audience feel just as passionately about the need for the cuts, whereas supporters of the health-care bill weren’t as passionate as the detractors.

The other major difference is that these protests aren’t yet getting the same kind of coverage as the 2009 ones did. Those town halls were held in the doldrums of summer, with little else going on. Between President Obama’s birth certificate, the situation at the Treasury and several other stories going on, the town halls haven’t penetrated the national consciousness — at least, yet.

Of course, all of this is political theater, and one shouldn’t read too much into the actions of a few people at town halls.

But there's also plenty of evidence that these isolated incidents say something larger about how the public views an issue. Republicans were accused of astroturfing in 2009 (i.e. organizing attendees to heckle), but even then, it turned out to be pretty indicative of the actual opposition to the bill.

It remains to be seen whether the resistance to these Medicare changes rises to that level.

Indiana Planned Parenthood bill passes: The Indiana state House overwhelmingly passed a bill that cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood, sending the legislation to the desk of Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

Daniels has a difficult decision to make, as social conservatives support the bill but the measure might cost the state all of its Medicaid federal family planning funds. Planned Parenthood of Indiana has already announced its intention to contest the legislation in court.

Daniels has previously called for a truce on social issues while the economy digs itself out of a hole, and he hasn’t backed down from that.

“Gov. Mitch Daniels will now be forced to decide whether to put his presidential ambitions above thousands of Hoosier women who would lose access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other basic health care,” said Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Boehner’s honeymoon over: A new Gallup poll finds that House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) ratings have slipped precipitously since he took the gavel. In January, his favorable rating was twice as high as his unfavorable rating. Now, the two are about even. The biggest change, proportionately, was with independents.

It’s not at all uncommon in politics for familiarity to breed contempt. When Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) first became speaker in 2007, her ratings underwent a similar path up and then down.

Florida GOPers avoid union fight as Massachusetts Dems begins one: Despite a rare personal visit from Gov. Rick Scott (R), state Senate Republicans in Florida are refusing to move on legislation that targets union dues.

The bill, which passed the House, was seen as a way to weaken Democrats politically before a round of redistricting that could hurt the GOP.

Scott has also failed to get his fellow Republicans in the legislature to back him on income tax cuts, immigration legislation and pension plan changes, raising questions about his effectiveness and ability to work even with members of his own party.

Even the heavily Democratic Massachusetts House has now passed legislation curbing unions’ collective bargaining rights. But Gov. Deval Patrick (D) suggested that union gripes that the bill is similar to the bill passed in Wisconsin are unfounded.


  • The publisher of the upcoming birther book “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” acknowledges that the title is “unfortunate.”

  • Donald Trump’s antics appear to be boosting ratings for “The Apprentice” but hurting “Celebrity Apprentice.” So it’s a wash?

  • Lots of intrigue over mistaken a mistaken report Wednesday that said Mike Huckabee wasn’t going to run for president.


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