Lawmakers' priority during recess: avoid town halls
Virulent meetings over healthcare reform lead some in Congress – especially Democrats – to seek less public ways to engage voters.
For a member of Congress, the only thing worse than a perp walk is a deer-in-the-headlights moment, as when attacked at a public meeting.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Given the virulence lawmakers have encountered lately at some town-hall-style meetings about health reform legislation, those on both sides of the aisle – Democrats especially – are devising new strategies for engaging voters. Even members who have yet to face confrontational protesters have seen video clips of colleagues who have, and they are adapting.
As a result, the face-to-face town meeting, once a staple of the August congressional recess, is on the outs. In its place is a new array of “virtual” meetings – free of protest signs, shouting, bad media moments, and (real or suspected) “outside agitators."
These new platforms range from mass conference calls, or I-town hall meetings, to interactive Internet sites where voters register concerns and members, in their own time, respond.
A shift to 'virtual' meetings
Sen. Herb Kohl (D) of Wisconsin, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, set up a webcast on YouTube Thursday to explain to voters – no questions asked – the state of play on healthcare, especially the facts that there is yet no healthcare bill and that “no decisions have been made.”
Senator Kohl has scheduled healthcare-related events throughout the recess, but no rallies or town halls.
“But you can see from the other town halls," she added, "that a lot of them don’t allow for constructive conversation. So, we’re trying to see how that flow of information and opinions can take place without all the chaos.”
Likewise for Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan. He "is holding a series of intense policy discussions over the August break with policy experts, healthcare providers, business leaders, benefits administrators and others," says spokeswoman Tara Andringa. "He always welcomes input from Michiganders by e-mail or phone on any topic."
A GOP tactic, too
Freshman Sen. Jim Risch (R) of Idaho is also punting on big public town hall meetings this August. Instead, he plans a series of I-town hall meetings, along the lines pioneered by Idaho’s senior Sen. Mike Crapo (R) in 2007. It’s a statewide conference call that contacts voters first with an invitation to join the call, and again when the call begins. He is also planning to put up a poll on his Senate website to solicit voter opinion once a Senate bill takes shape.
He's not worried about confrontational protesters though.