Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters and business leaders this morning at a breakfast on Capitol Hill that House Republicans have returned from their town hall meetings “energized” about their 2012 budget. "I talked to dozens of members yesterday who were excited about their town hall meetings, who went and delivered this message to their constituents, who came back energized like I did," Ryan said.
Diane Black, a freshman Republican from Tennessee, held three town hall meetings during the recess and said she feels her constituents get it. “They want to know the truth,” Black said in a phone interview. At first, she said, many of her constituents expressed their belief that tackling foreign aid, waste and abuse, and earmarks could solve federal spending problems. But after showing how health care entitlement spending dominates and drives the debt, Black believes that most people understand the problem.
“Once you tell [seniors] that anyone over the age of 55 won’t be affected, they are on board,” Black said. “And for people in their forties and younger, they already know they aren’t getting benefits" at current government spending levels.
“We certainly have had some challenging questions from constituents about the budget,” said Nan Hayworth of New York, another freshman Republican, in a phone interview. “But it has not been a trial to talk with them. Part of the job is explaining the challenges we face.”
Public opinion polling on the Medicare reform portions of the House budget has been mixed, in part because pollsters have represented (or misrepresented) the facts of the proposal differently. A recent Quinnipiac poll, however, shows that even when the details of the Ryan plan are explained fairly, 60 percent of Americans still prefer the status quo on Medicare. This means House Republicans still have a lot of work ahead of them in explaining that the status quo is unsustainable.
“A lot of people seem to think the status quo can just keep going,” Ryan said. “It can’t. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security consume all federal revenue by the time my kids are my age. Gosh, if you add interest on that, by 2025 it consumes every federal revenue.”
Hayworth said she certainly feels energized about moving forward on health care entitlement reform, as do most of her constituents. “They are aware it’s time to do something,” she said.
Ryan agrees. "Look, the people are ahead of the political class,” he said. “And I really believe that people, when they see the circumstances, when they understand the situation and the numbers, they are ready to embrace the kinds of reforms we’re talking about, because the alternative is really quite ugly."