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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Several Republican members of Congress, fed-up with being grilled on their plans to privatize Medicare and other controversial Tea Party measures, are exclusively holding pay-per-view town halls, where attendance will cost you. The response from their constituents has only been to increase the volume.

Paul Ryan, architect of the Republican plan to to shift Medicare to a voucher system that has hurt the GOP in some special election races since it passed the House this spring, is among those sick of regular old free democracy:

Ryan will appear at a late August event where voters can pay $15 to have lunch with the congressman. Those who register in advance, providing their names and background information and writing their checks, might even get to ask their congressman a question.

That’s fine for the pay-to-play crowd.

But the folks on fixed incomes who are most threatened by Ryan’s proposed assaults on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will have to decide whether they can afford to be citizens. Some of them decided Thursday that Ryan’s price was too high. A group of unemployed workers staged a sit-in at his Kenosha office, while others protested outside, chanting “Ryan is a no-show, bring jobs to Kenosha.” The message from one of the largest cities in the district was blunt: “After being denied a meeting with Ryan after multiple requests over the last few weeks, the unemployed men and women have decided to sit down and wait for Congressman Ryan.”

Emulating Ryan’s avoidance of critics are Reps. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Chip Cravaack (R-MN), Lou Barletta (R-PA) and Renee Elmers (R-NC). All seem intent on making it as difficult as possible to register protest to a Tea Party agenda that is failing to catch on with the electorate.

“These pay-per-view town halls make it perfectly clear who GOP members of Congress think they’re working for. If you’re a major donor or a big corporate supporter, the Republicans in Congress are willing to bend over backwards to make sure you get your way. If you’re an ordinary citizen who wants to have your voice heard, tough luck,” Michael B. Keegan, president of People for the American Way, told The National Memo Friday. His group has been active in corralling support for traditional town halls that are, you know, free.

“The right to petition your representatives isn’t accidental to system of government—it’s spelled out in black and white in the First Amendment. It’s a tremendously important part of democracy. The worst possible outcome would be for this to become the norm, so we’re making sure that our activists hear about this trend and that members of Congress hear from activists.

“Congressman Paul Ryan is charging people to attend town halls to hear what he has to say and have a chance to ask a question. Congressmen Ben Quayle and Chip Cravaack aren’t even hosting town halls themselves — they’re attending events hosted for them by friendly organizations with a fee for attendance. This amounts to nothing less than pay-per-view government as the Republicans try to privatize democracy.”

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