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Some GOP Freshmen Squeezed Between Medicare-Worried Seniors, Tea Party

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.
Jacquelyn Martin
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.

To be a freshman Republican House member representing a swing congressional district with traditionally strong Democratic leanings means walking a tightrope when you're back home.

You get it from voters who are Democrats, Republicans and independents which obviously can make your political life much more difficult than your fellow lawmakers in their safely solid red or blue districts.

Some news outlets examine what some of the freshman Republicans in such marginal districts have encountered.

Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania gets attention from both Politico and National Journal. His northeastern Pennsylvania district includes Hazleton, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and is almost a four-hour drive from Washington.

From National Journal:

Freshman Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., represents a district that gave Obama 57 percent of the vote in 2008 but has one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the country. Constituents criticized him for his support of the Ryan plan in a recent town hall meeting. One constituent accused him of trying to "destroy Medicare."

Politico gives these details of what may have been the same meeting:

In the middle of Barletta's presentation on the national debt, a man in the front row interrupted him. "As a senior, did I not pay for these Medicare and Social Security benefits? Didn't I give Washington my dollars so that as a senior I could live on them?"

Barletta replied "Yes, and it is going to be there. It's not being touched for any of the senior citizens now, but for my daughter—"

The man cut him off again. "It should be there for her as well."

As Politico also notes, Barletta and other Republican freshmen are also catching flak from Tea Party movement members who believe lawmakers aren't cutting enough spending.

For sure, these lawmakers must pay attention to the activists on the right who, after all, helped them beat incumbent Democrats.

But the 2010 election had the generally lower turnout of mid-term elections. There were also concerns about the economy and the controversial new health care law associated with Democrats and President Obama.

Voter participation in the 2012 general election is likely to be significantly higher however because President Obama and the Republican nominee will be on the ballot.

Thus, the political futures of these freshmen are likely to be determined by many more voters coming out, including those motivated by concerns about real and proposed cuts to federal programs they rely on.

So while these lawmakers are caught in the crosscurrents from the right and the left, the concerns of voters, especially seniors and their families worried about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, will be there in a way they weren't in 2010.

And they give Democrats a surer hook onto which to place their campaigns to win back some of those seats.

As Politico further reported:

Democrats are hoping that in districts like Barletta's — which, at more than 115,000, has one of the highest populations of senior citizens in the state — voters will sour on Republicans once they look at their voting record on Ryan's budget.

"The national Republicans are trying to create this distinction with the president. It's a distinction that these new members can't walk away from. It's one thing to campaign saying that we're going to cut, cut, cut, but it's a whole other thing to cut specific investments that benefit your local community," said Josh Shapiro, a state assembly member in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Frum Forum's Frosh Update blog reports on some of the Democratic efforts to use the freshmen's votes for Rep. Paul Ryan's recent budget proposal which would privatize Medicare against them.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.