Congressman Paul Ryan held four more town hall events in his district on Tuesday to discuss the budget resolution he wrote, and (as was the case last week) the response from the max-capacity crowds was largely supportive of Ryan and his plan.
Ryan faced tough questions on a variety of topics--tax cuts, the decline of the dollar, welfare, his past votes for deficit-spending, oil production, raising the cap on Social Security taxes--but surprisingly few on Medicare. Perhaps that's because his 17-minute PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of the event so thoroughly explained his Medicare reform for those under 55 and how it differs from President Obama's plan to ration care through the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
For every detractor, Ryan was greeted by at least two enthusiastic fans at yesterday's events. In Lake Geneva, for example, one man praised Ryan's "courage" while a woman thanked him for "having the cojones" to produce his budget.
"I own a company called Bella Mia that has paid tons of taxes," said one Lake Geneva constituent named Maria, who settled down in Wisconsin after growing up on the East Coast. "I have a very hard working son," she continued as Ryan interrupted to say that he knows her son. "Yes, I know. He loves you," she deadpanned. The crowd laughed.
“I love you. As a surrogate mother," she continued. "I want to thank you for having the cojones—and not the other word, which I hope you all know what it is—for standing up for us the whole United States... Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” The crowd applauded.
Of course, Ryan heard from detractors as well, but they were generally respectful. “Happy Easter, Paul!” one constituent sincerely exclaimed, before asking Ryan: “What are the American people getting out of the war in Iraq except for dead Americans and debt?”
Ryan delivered a thorough response about the mission in Iraq that's winding down and the one continuing apace in Afghanistan and concluded: "We don’t want the sacrifice we’ve made to be all for naught. We want this mission to be fulfilled. We want this mission to be achieved so that we do have a safer Middle East, so that we do have no safe haven for terrorists, so that we ourselves are safer."
The most heated exchange of the day was, of all things, about immigration. At a townhall meeting in the town of Paddock Lake, one constituent, a retired Marine, asked about the cost of illegal immigration and "anchor babies" in particular. Ryan began to talk about border security, saying that “catch and release” doesn’t work.
“Are you talking about people or fish?” a woman in bold framed glasses blurted out.
“And that is racist and sexist,” she continued, turning toward the retired Marine. After some back and forth among crowd members, Ryan tried to calm them down.
“Don’t let him speak in a racist, sexist manner. You can stop him,” the woman said.
“The gentleman has a right to be heard,” Ryan replied.
As he did with each question, Ryan addressed the Marine's question point-by-point and moved on.
The most rowdy crowd of the day was in the heavily unionized city of Kenosha. At one point, a heckler yelled out "liar!" when Ryan said our corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world.
“If you're yelling, I just want to ask you to leave,” Ryan replied. “If you're going to scream out like that, it's just not polite to everyone. We've got media here. Let's prove to them that Wisconsinites can be cordial with one another.” The crowd calmed down.
Outside of the event in Kenosha there were 50 to 75 protesters, mostly union members and liberal activists, including community organizers from the organization Community for Change who had dressed as 1920s millionaires and held signs thanking Ryan.
As the event was about to conclude a few dozen protesters lined up near an exit and tried to figure out what they would chant when Ryan emerged.
"Tax the rich!" said one woman. Others suggested that was no good, since it implied they only wanted to tax the rich.
"The rich should pay taxes also!" said another woman.
"That would be a little worrrddyyyy," replied another. They finally settled on "tax the rich too!"
The small crowd eventually became raucous, as Ryan supporters began speaking up. A man who identified himself only as a Teamsters member ("I don't have a name," he told me) got in the face of a Ryan supporter.
"Officer, arrest this man," the Teamsters member then said to a police officer. "He's inciting a riot."
The police officer told the Teamsters member not to tell him what to do, and the Teamsters official responded by leaning into the police officer chanting for pay cuts to cops who "don't protect and serve."
"Back off!" yelled the police officer.
The rowdy scene caused Ryan to leave with a police escort out of another exit.
"Chickenshit!" yelled Ned Harper, president of the local SEIU chapter, upon hearing the news that Ryan was already gone.
Ryan told the local NBC affiliate that his escort should not be "blown out of proportion." It's already been reported as the highlight of yesterday's events by The Hill and Politico.
Ryan has eight more town hall events this week on Thursday and Friday.