MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
House Budget Committee Chairman Republican Paul Ryan is back home in Wisconsin this week. And in a series of meetings, he's hearing from constituents about his budget-cutting plan that passed the house earlier this month.
Wisconsin public radio's Chuck Quirmbach has visited some of those meetings and sent this report.
CHUCK QUIRMBACH: In normal times, Paul Ryan draws just a handful of people to his listening sessions. But that was before he became a GOP rock star. That occurred after the House passed his plan calling for major changes in Medicare and Medicaid, and cutting tax rates for the wealthy.
Ryan now draws overflow crowds at his district meetings. Yesterday, about 200 people crowded into city hall in Lake Geneva. As national television crews looked on, Ryan asked the audience to dispel the image forged in the state's ongoing collective bargaining fight that people here can no longer get along.
PAUL RYAN: Let's prove to these press people that Wisconsinites can have civil debate, that we can treat each other with respect.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
QUIRMBACH: Most constituents here have been civil, even when some in the crowd boo Ryan. But it's clear that Ryan's audiences are politically divided. A few have asked the congressman to run for president in 2012, something he says is not going to happen.
Supporters like Maria Melenzio-Kinsey say that Ryan's budget plan tries to head off severe economic problems in the years ahead, and she calls it courageous.
MARIA MELENZIO: The whole United States, you're standing up for. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
QUIRMBACH: But Ryan concedes that his budget plan counts on getting more people back to work, meaning less reliance on the government safety net.
Prior to a listening session in the Village of Paddock Lake, Bob Pringle said a tax cut could convince the well-heeled to create more jobs.
BOB PRINGLE: It's probably important for people you want to start up and restart a business. Unfortunately, a lot of people think all these rich people don't do that, but they do.
QUIRMBACH: Pringle already receives Medicare and, like other seniors, wouldn't be affected by Ryan's plan to relegate those under 55 to enter a voucher program for Medicare.
It's the Medicare proposal that seems to be generating the most heat at these listening sessions. At a rally outside Ryan's event in Kenosha yesterday, protesters chanted: Hands off Medicare and Ryan, stop lyin'.
Brian Prell said Medicare vouchers wouldn't keep up with the rising costs of health care.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)
BRIAN PRELL: He's going to save us money by cutting some of our social programs, but yet he's going to give that money, that same money, back in tax cuts to the people that least need them? To me, that is pretty much lying. That's two-faced. That's dishonest. That's Paul Ryan in a nutshell.
QUIRMBACH: Prell said he doesn't believe Ryan's argument that trimming tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations would offset cuts in tax rates.
Paul Ryan acknowledges the House budget is going to have a tough time passing the Senate and competing with the president's proposal that seeks smaller changes in Medicare. When asked at one session if it'll take a Republican election sweep next year to get his program enacted, he said he would push for compromise this year.
RYAN: We're not going to get a grand-slam budget agreement. But hopefully, we can get a single or a double or maybe a triple. It's baseball season, so I'm going to use baseball analogies.
QUIRMBACH: But the Democrats hope voters will toss out swing-district Republicans who support Ryan's plan in the next election and, sticking with the baseball analogy, send Ryan and his budget plan to the showers.
For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.
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