I just returned from Paul Ryan's townhall meeting in Waterford and am dutifully reporting back, Kossacks.
First of all, there were over 400 people there, probably a majority being pro-Ryan. It was hard to tell because, as usual, we Democrats were polite, and the Republicans just kept trying to shout down anyone they disagreed with, in spite of Ryan's efforts to quiet them down.
Secondly, the local media were there, along with reporters from the AP and USA Today. The AP and USA Today guys asked me for my name and town afterwards, so maybe our side will get some print.
Third, as I suspected, when I asked how many people had actually read Ryan's plan, about 5 people raised their hands, all of whom seemed to be on our side. So essentially, all of the impolite, booing people hadn't even read the proposal.
Fourth, I did get a chance to speak! Yippee!! A summary below the fold...
Prior to my speaking, several people congratulated Mr. Ryan for having the "cojones" to be so brave and bold as to come up with a plan (which they hadn't even read). A few people spoke against it, leading to booing and shouting from the crowd. He himself comes off as very reasonable, charming, and caring. His Powerpoint bashes Obama's budget and leads everyone to believe that the current President's policies are what got us into this mess. But it's a very nice, reasonable looking Powerpoint, with very nice graphs, so of course he must be right...
Chris, a laid-off electrician, spoke before me and made 2 great points. First, Ryan's budget projects out to 2080. He blames the huge future deficits on baby boomers entering the S.S. and Medicare systems. Chris pointed out that most of us will be dead by 2040, so where did he get those numbers from? Second, he quietly and respectfully said, "Stop attacking the President," for which he was roundly booed. It was hard for Chris to speak - he's a blue-collar guy. And he left early because he couldn't take it. Sad.
Then I spoke. First, because the TV cameras were there, I held up a copy of The People's Budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and said that Ryan wasn't the only one with "cojones." That is was a great budget, started paying off the debt in 10 years, and was just as bold as Ryan's budget. Most people haven't heard about it, perhaps because the CPC isn't as boyishly handsome as Ryan (yes, I actually said that). Everyone should read it.
Second, I asked who'd read the Ryan budget. Five wimpy hands went up. Then I said that I had a copy (I then waved it) and had read it (which I think actually got people's attention). I read the first line, which Ryan had interestingly removed from the copy of the first page that he handed out today), which is, "Where the President has failed, House Republicans will lead." I then pointed out that President Obama was the only individual he singled out in his entire budget plan, and that his plan was in fact very partisan, in spite of what he says. Because there are things contributing to the debt that aren't listed in his document, such as...
Third, I started asking him about all of the things he voted for between 2001 and 2005 that were unfunded. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - "Did you vote for corresponding funding for these wars?" "No." Me to audience - "That's $1.2 trillion that we've had to borrow every cent of to pay for those wars."
"Did you vote for any funding for Medicare Part D?" "No, but..." "And didn't you oppose allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices?" He then went on a riff about how that's actually working out because Part D hasn't cost nearly as much as the CBO had predicted. Me: "That's because Walmart is selling $4 prescriptions because as a large consumer, they can negotiate lower prices. Why don't we do that?"
At this point, the crowd was getting restless, and Mr. Ryan clearly wanted to move on. For as cool and calm as he had been, I don't think he was expecting anyone to actually confront him with his own role in partisanship and budget deficits, and he seemed the most uncomfortable that he'd been since the meeting started.
I finished by pointing out that many of his charts showed that the only time in the past 30 years we'd begun to pay down the debt was while President Clinton was in office, before the Bush tax cuts, which cost $4.4 trillion...and then it was on to the next person.
Phew!!!!! Several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for having the courage to speak up - it's SO hard for people to do out here in the most Republican part of the state. The guys from AP and USA today came up to me.
So, I did it! And I think I did okay, and I'm proud of myself, because it was a rough crowd. And I have a headache now. It's really an awful situation in which to make salient, calmly presented points. And I'm not a booer or a shouter, in spite of the fact that I'm very passionate about my views, so I'm sorry if that disappoints some of you. At no time did I say, "You're hurting seniors by giving rich people tax cuts!" If I'd said that, no one would have heard anything else I said because they'd be booing. I do think that because I said I'd actually read the budget, it gave me quite a bit of credibility.
I have to say that it does feel great to speak up and directly confront the person who's budget proposal is going to hurt the poorest, oldest, and most frail of our citizens. This IS what democracy looks like, and this is what we're fighting for. Because if the Koch Brothers and Donald Trump and the Republicans have their way, nobody will get a chance to say anything. Keep on fighting, Kossacks!