During a recent interview with Bloomberg, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) described the 19 town halls he held during Congress’ Easter Break as “overwhelmingly supportive” and dismissed the notion that public opposition to the GOP budget “reflected citizens’ sentiment.” Ryan blamed some of the raucous and disagreements at his town halls on ThinkProgress, claiming that we had “organized protesters” for his events:
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Chairman, these big protests that some members of Congress (OFF-MIKE) Medicare agreement during the recess, do you think that’s unnerved some of the members who supported your plan? And, secondly, do you think these protests reflected citizens’ sentiment? Or do you think they were ginned up by the opposition? […]
RYAN: So, no, my town halls were phenomenally, overwhelmingly supportive. They were 80/20 crowds. And this was after – you know, it was reported by the media that MoveOn, Think Progress, the labor council from Milwaukee were doing training sessions and trying to stack the crowds. So even though they had organized protesters in opposition, the crowds were overwhelmingly in favor.
To be clear, ThinkProgress didn’t conduct any kind of “training sessions” for opponents or “stack the crowds.” We didn’t bus people in, tell anyone to attend, or in any other way coordinate with Wisconsinites to oppose Ryan’s reforms. ThinkProgress did attend several of Ryan’s town halls and reported one of the earliest instances of opposition to the Congressman’s plan in Milton, Wisconsin. Throughout the recess, we filed multiple reports describing some of the inaccuracies in Ryan’s talking points and highlighting some of the most contentious moments of the debate.
While it is true Ryan did find overwhelming support at most of his meetings — receiving at least two standing ovations and several requests that he run for president — the Congressman was also routinely challenged by his constituents on his plan to lower tax cuts for the rich and transform Medicare into a “premium support” system in which seniors received a pre-determined sum of dollars to purchase health coverage from private insurers. Wisconsinites pressed Ryan on why the money used to extend the Bush tax cuts wasn’t being applied to the deficit, why their children would not receive the same guaranteed Medicare benefits that they’ve enjoyed, and why the government’s “premium support” did not keep up with medical inflation.
Ryan usually dismissed these concerns by saying that repealing the Bush tax cuts would only negligibly affect the national debt and by insisting that the biggest threat to Medicare was doing nothing at all. He also disingenuously claimed that the GOP’s “premium support” proposal was almost identical to the coverage he receives as a member of Congress and repeated the debunked notion that Medicare would not change for Americans over 55 years of age.
Rather than “stack the crowd,” ThinkProgress reported on all of these claims and unsuccessfully tried to interview the Congressman at several meetings. We were rebuffed by Ryan’s press people, however, who like Ryan himself, seemed to view any serious opposition to the plan as a staged annoyance.