In what appears to be an effort to avoid the free-for-all town halls that have plagued recent contentious congressional recesses, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other Republican members of Congress have chosen to charge admission to their home-district appearances.
Ryan will speak September 6 to the Whitnall Park Rotary Club in Greenfield, Wisc. Admission to the event is $15 per person and includes lunch.
Ryan has no free public town hall appearances scheduled during the recess.
The last time he held a free town hall, in Milton, Wisc. in April, Ryan was booed while trying to explain his proposal for the federal budget, which included drastic cuts to entitlement and benefit programs. Other Republicans around the country were on the receiving end of similar heat from their constituents. Ryan even had police remove one heckler from a town hall event in Racine, Wisc.
Considering the backlash that Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, faced for proposed financial legislation this spring, it’s no surprise to some that he is avoiding open public events during the continued turmoil of the debt ceiling crisis.
“Constituents deserve easy and free access to their elected officials,” Center for Responsive Politics spokesman Michael Beckel told Raw Story. “Elected officials should have abundant opportunities for interaction with constituents and town hall meetings are one good way to ensure that citizens can have their voices heard in the political process. As an elected official, you don’t want to price constituents out of meeting with you or telegraph the message that you only listen to people willing to pay for access.”
Beckel added that small fees for food would not price most out of seeing their representative, but that access was imperative.
Ryan’s spokesman, Kevin Seifert, stressed that the rotary club had invited Ryan to be a speaker, so the congressman had nothing to do with the admission price.
“He has no control over the cost of the event any more than he has control over the menu,” Seifert said.
Seifert also noted that Ryan had received standing ovations at some of the 19 town halls he held in Wisconsin in April, and that while there are no traditional, free town hall meetings scheduled for the current recess, Ryan has two scheduled conference call town halls. He also plans to have more traditional town hall meetings in the fall.
MoveOn.org Executive Director Justin Rubin told Politico that he wasn’t surprised at the selectively scheduled hometown events for Ryan and other Republican lawmakers.
“After Republicans voted to gut Medicare, and other vital programs, while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and corporations, it’s not surprising that they would not want to face their constituents in an open forum,” he said. “There seems to be no limit to how much our government is for sale.”
This article was edited after publication to include the comments of Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert.