Republican stays cool as he faces heat at town hall

Guinta takes questions over future of Medicare, budget

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EXETER, N.H. | Retiree Gary Patton made it clear early on during Rep. Frank C. Guinta’s town hall meeting that he was not happy about the Republican’s support for GOP proposals that would dramatically change Medicare.

Kicking off the question-and-answer session at Thursday’s gathering, the retired 73-year-old college professor sounded the alarm, warning the hundreds gathered in the pristine high school auditorium here that the GOPs latest spending proposal would gut government-run health programs for both the elderly and poor.

“Republicans will tell us that it preserves Medicare, it protects Medicare. It does not,” Mr. Patton said, before asking the Republican lawmaker point blank: “Why, congressman? Why in the world did you ever vote for [Rep.] Paul Ryans Medicare plan?”

The question won applause from a large chunk of the agitated crowd, while Mr. Guintas assurance that nobody 55 or older would be affected was met with boos and catcalls from some.

“What about our kids!” a man yelled.

“What about me, Im 14! What am I going to do?” a student shouted.

The rest of the nearly two-hour meeting unfolded similarly, with cascades of boos countered at times with applause from people pleased with House GOP leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers like Mr. Guinta, who is already facing a 2012 challenge from the person he ousted, Carol Shea-Porter, the Democrat who held the seat from 2006 to 2010.

While the meeting didnt reach the levels of rancor seen in other town hall meetings across the country, the overall response to Mr. Guinta was more negative than positive — a sharp reminder that Republicans who now control the House could get a taste of the same anti-incumbent fury that Democrats faced in 2010.

Republicans across the country are hearing from voters concerned about a GOP push to cut $6.2 billion from projected deficits over 10 years, in part by transforming Medicare into a voucher-like-system — a plan that has drawn the ire of President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Mr. Guinta, however, was skeptical about comparing the current protests over Republican deficit-reduction proposals to the 2010 backlash to the Obama health care law.

“I dont see the response to the health care bill as a politically coordinated effort,” Mr. Guinta told The Washington Times. “It [the 2010 protests] was a pretty grass-roots, individual-based frustration and people were voicing their opinions.”

But the anger directed at Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the architect of the Republican plan, is being driven, he said, in part by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of House Democrats.

“That is not a true reflection of what the constituencies of those representatives have,” Mr. Guinta said.

Other New Hampshire political insiders, though, say House Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team have cost the GOP some of the momentum it had last fall.

At a business roundtable meeting Thursday, business owner Gary Brown told Mr. Guinta that the GOP missed an opportunity to make deeper cuts in 2011.

“The speaker had a card in his hands that he tossed away,” Mr. Brown said, chiding GOP leaders for what he saw as their ‘country club attitude.’ “You freshman have a major problem. A high school economics student knows you cant keep doing what were doing.”

Mr. Guinta, a former mayor, said such comments show many voters are “not pleased” with the spending deal House GOP leaders struck with their Democratic counterparts in the Senate.

“I spend probably 20 percent of my time talking about that and trying to convey what it’s like in Washington because there is that frustration and people kind of bang their heads,” he said.

“One of the things that I try to remind people is that you do have competing philosophies in the House, the Senate and the White House,” Mr. Guinta said. “If you boil it down to three votes, the president has one, the Senate has one and the House has one. The House is going to lose two to one every single time.”

But some Republicans are running out of patience.

“When they go to Washington, something happens. I dont know what it is, but something happens,” said a state lawmaker who thought House Republicans shouldve forced a government shutdown to get a better spending deal. “They backed down.”

At his town hall meeting, Mr. Guinta didn’t back down.

Instead, he calmly fielded more than a dozen questions and comments from a mix of supporters and opponents. And he repeatedly tried to soothe concerns about his partys proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

“If you dont like the plan, than let me know,” he said.

The crowd did, delivering what arguably was the largest roar of disapproval all evening.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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