GOP Seeks to Change Face of Meetings

Posted March 4, 2005 at 6:36pm

In an attempt to shift Congressional momentum on Social Security reform, a coalition of outside groups and the Republican National Committee are stepping up their efforts to counter anti-privatization activists at lawmakers’ town hall meetings.

Dozens of Republican House Members returned from their districts last week to report mixed reactions at the Social Security gatherings they had held over the Presidents Day recess. While some Members recounted positive experiences, others complained that their events — and the subsequent media coverage — were dominated by activists from anti-privatization groups such as AARP and MoveOn.org.

Supporters of reform hope that by getting more of their own people to future town hall meetings, they can change the tenor of the press coverage while also boosting the confidence of Republican lawmakers.

About two-thirds of House Republicans have yet to hold a single district gathering on Social Security, and leadership strategists fear those lawmakers will be even less inclined to hold any meetings if they keep reading negative press reports.

“After those first meetings, Members are now hearing that our side is planning on stepping up efforts to match those on the Democrat side,” said a House GOP leadership aide.

As the Bush administration continues its 60-day tour to promote Social Security reform, the Republican National Committee is devising ways to support that effort while also steering more sympathetic voices to Congressional gatherings.

An internal RNC memo on Social Security outreach plans for this week calls for GOP activists and volunteers to “bolster and support Republican town halls by driving supporters and saturating local media” while also “bracket[ing] Democrat town halls and events with research documents and statements, op-eds, letter-to-the-editor programs, supporters, radio and television.”

At the same time, the pro-reform group Generations Together is increasing its own efforts to influence the direction of Congressional gatherings.

“Wherever Social Security is going to be talked about, we want our people there to talk about it,” said Derrick Max, the group’s executive director. “Will there be protesters at events? Yes.”

But Max said representatives from Generations Together already have attended more than 50 town hall meetings and their reports indicate that reform supporters mostly outnumbered opponents.

Still, Max said, “We’ll be ramping it up a little bit.”