Rep. Paul Ryan Refuses To Face Voters This August, But 'Welcomed The Debate' In 2009

August 16, 2011 11:32 am ET — Alan Pyke

You learn a lot about people from how they respond to praise, and even more from their reaction to criticism. In that sense, 2011 has been a revealing year for Republican budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

His budget proposal was first hailed by pundits as "courageous," among other adjectives. Then it was gutted by writers who double-checked his math, and ultimately rejected by voters angered at the Republican idea to replace Medicare with undervalued coupons. Ryan welcomed the early praise, and when the analytic types savaged the plan's projections, Ryan's allies simply disappeared the dishonest numbers, but his reaction to voter backlash was telling.

At an April town hall meeting, Ryan had a Medicare heckler tossed out of the room. On ABC in May, he dismissed the anger directed at his policy ideas as a "sign of the anxiety of the times and" the "misinformation perpetrated out there," without ever acknowledging that voter opposition might be legitimate.

Now the August recess is here, and Ryan's changed tactics. Rather than face his critics in open forums with constituents, he's only appearing at closed meetings with entry fees. Politico reports:

It will cost $15 to ask Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a question in person during the August congressional recess.

The House Budget Committee chairman isn't holding any face-to-face open-to-the-public town hall meetings during the recess, but like several of his colleagues he will speak only for residents willing to open their wallets. [...]

By outsourcing the events to third parties that charge an entry fee to raise money, members of Congress can eliminate most of the riffraff while still - in some cases - allowing in reporters and TV cameras for a positive local news story. [...]

Ryan, who had police remove a man who yelled at him about proposed Medicare cuts during an April town hall meeting in Racine, will host telephone town hall meetings but no free events in person during the recess, spokesman Kevin Seifert said.

This is the same Paul Ryan who held 17 "health care listening sessions" during the 2009 August recess. Way back then, Ryan latched onto town hall anger in press releases, claiming to "welcome the debate," and even bragged on TV that "I shattered the attendance record at my town halls" and "my town halls ran about 9- or 8-to-1 against the health care bill." Now the shoe is on the other foot, so Ryan is avoiding open "listening sessions" with voters who reject his budget ideas.

Yet according to Politico, a Ryan spokesman "said the decision not to hold public town hall events had nothing to do with criticism the House budget chairman took from constituents in April." If you believe that, Paul Ryan's got a bridge to sell you.