EXETER, N.H. – Members of Congress have talked about the hard choices that must be made to get the country’s debt under control. Now, they’re figuring out just how difficult those decisions are going to be – and the political price that could be paid for making them.
Representative Frank Guinta, a first-term Republican from Manchester, faced a feisty crowd tonight at a town hall meeting in a high school in this quiet town near the seacoast.
The crowd booed at some responses, hissed at others. Audience members yelled and pointed at the congressman, and they yelled and pointed at each other.
Guinta was swept into office last year with a wave of Tea Party-fueled anger – largely over the economy and health care – and, constituents seemed to remind him tonight, he could just as easily be swept out.
It was an indication of the unrest going on throughout the country, as House Republicans attempt to defend their votes to implement drastic budget cuts and curb long-cherished entitlement programs.
A 73-year old man stood up and criticized the plan to cut Medicare, which has become one of the most controversial aspects of the budget blueprint that was drafted by Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and approved earlier this month by the House.
“Why congressman Guinta?” he said. “Why in the world did you ever vote for the Paul Ryan Medicare plan?”
Guinta began to answer, by saying many of the changes likely wouldn’t be phased in in time to affect him.
“What about me?” shouted Joe Platte, an eighth grader from Stratham, NH. “I’m 14! What am I going to do?”
“This is a tough issue, and I sympathize with anyone who is reliant on a program like this, or who expects to be on a program like this,” Guinta said. “But my goal, my objective, is to make sure that if you’re in or near retirement, nothing changes. Because the country made a promise to you.”
Later, he said, “If you don’t like the plan, let me know.” The crowd applauded loudly to let him know they didn’t like it.
Guinta faced criticism on a variety of issues, including the extension of the tax cuts for wealthy Americans – which was approved in December, a month before Guinta took office. Throughout, he tried to keep the audience calm, repeating a mantra: “Let’s find common ground.”
“It is getting more contentious,” Guinta conceded at one point. “I’d like to see an America that doesn’t pit people against each other. I’d like to see an America that comes together.”
He also recounted seeing Representative Barney Frank, the Democrat from Massachusetts, being interviewed on MSNBC. Frank spoke in favor of several proposals that he agreed with, including potentially leaving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and reducing certain taxes.
“If I can stand in New Hampshire and say those things, and Barney Frank can stand in Massachusetts and say those things,” Guinta said, “I think there’s hope for us in this country to find common ground.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.