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For some lawmakers, the summer return home has been less than a welcoming experience.
The angry mood at town halls meetings, plus scores of protests across the country this month, suggests the debate over spending cuts and reducing the federal deficit is far from over. Groups on both sides have used the August recess to target lawmakers.
Liberal protesters carried caskets to the offices of Republican lawmakers to symbolize the death of the middle class as a result of the debt ceiling agreement that mandates more than $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. At the same time, conservatives faulted Members who backed the deal because they said it didn’t cut spending enough and vowed to watch carefully as a new bipartisan super committee determines which programs to cut.
The two sides squared off at town hall meetings across the country.
Lawmakers didn’t face widespread disruptions at this year’s town halls, as they did two years ago in the midst of the health care debate, but it’s clear that the budget issue has touched a nerve among voters.
In Texas, tensions brewed at a meeting with Democratic Rep. Gene Green as someone in the audience called the Congressman a coward for backing the deal. Liberals in the audience asked Green why he wasn’t doing more to increase Social Security benefits and regulate the financial sector.
“Forget the compromises,” Houston resident Damien Wule said. “We’ve got to stand on principle.”
Others argued that the debt ceiling increase was unnecessary.
“We were never, never in danger of default,” said Floyd Van Wagner, another Houston resident who recommended that the federal government “get out of the Social Security business.”
“People are frustrated,” Green said in an interview after the hourlong town hall meeting. “What Congress does very publicly and the disagreements we have don’t give people around the country what they want, [which] is stability.”
Across town, Republican Rep. Kevin Brady faced similar anger from tea party activists.
In a 30-minute presentation in Houston’s northern suburbs, Brady explained why he supported the debt deal and vowed to call for more cuts, especially to entitlement programs such as Social Security. But the speech failed to impress some in the 50-person crowd.
“I’ve already told him he’s lost my vote,” Houston Tea Party Society member Vicki Mertes said. “I’m a little upset at him because he did not stand his ground.”