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Liberals Try to Rekindle Town Hall Fury That Inflamed Health Care Debate

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An angry constituent confronts Sen. Arlen Specter at a town hall-style meeting on health care, August, 11, 2009. (AP)

Democrats still scarred over the town hall fury that inflamed the health care debate two summers ago and came to symbolize the unpopularity of that legislation are hoping Republicans suffer a similar fate over their deficit-reduction plan that would revamp social safety-net programs.

Democratic lawmakers and their liberal supporters are trying to ignite a storm of protest at town hall meetings being held by Republicans during the current congressional recess that they hope will give them momentum going into the 2012 presidential election season.

The GOP-led House this month approved Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to cut $6.2 trillion from federal spending over 10 years and balance the budget by 2030 in part by making the elderly pay more for their Medicare. It would also cut the top income-tax rate for both individuals and corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent.

The plan has no shot of becoming law so long as Democrats control the Senate and the White House, which has released a plan that it says would cut $4 trillion over 12 years and would raise taxes on the wealthy. 

But with lawmakers set to return to Washington next week, liberals still want to punish Republicans who voted for it in hopes that it will help their party recapture the House and hold onto power in the Senate next year.

MoveOn last week reportedly urged its members to turn out at town halls and ask Republicans about plans to cut Medicare and Medicaid.

Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania faced outbursts at his town hall meeting that led police to remove a constituent. Others, including Rep. Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, Robert Dold of Illinois, and Paul Gosar of Arizona, were grilled over the budget plan that would cut nearly $6 trillion from the deficit, in part by making the elderly pay more for their Medicare.

Ryan himself was booed lustily last week at one of his town hall meetings when he expressed support for cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

Liberals have seized on that moment, arguing that residents in his own district don't support the plan.

Ryan is holding more town hall meetings this week.

So far, the back-and-forth at GOP town halls have not risen to the level of the Democratic ones two years ago when there were near riots that ended in arrests and protests that fueled the Tea Party movement.

But liberal groups aren't deterred.

Americans United for Change, a D.C.-based liberal group, has unleashed robo-calls in 23 Republican-held districts. The group has also targeted four lawmakers in particular with TV ads: Ryan and Reps. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin; Chip Cravaack of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa.

In a statement, Tom McMahon, the group's executive director, asked, "What are Republicans in Congress thinking, demanding that our most vulnerable citizens make more sacrifices but millionaires and big corporations to make less?"

As part of its effort to hold 25 House Republicans' feet to the fire, the DCCC released an online ad showing the elderly stripping at a house party, selling lemonade and struggling to mow lawns to pay for their health care under the Ryan plan.

"This is a defining moment for House Republicans: they chose to end Medicare rather than end taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil or tax breaks for the ultra rich," DCCC Chairman Steve Israel said in a statement.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., sent out a fundraising email Tuesday for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is seeking to raise $145,590 by the end of the week, asking, "Is nothing sacred to these people?"

"First, Republicans spent months attacking women and families. Now they're going after seniors," she said. "There's no end to what they're willing to destroy to achieve their extremist vision."

Claims by Democrats that the Republican plan would end social safety-net programs have been dismissed by fact-checking groups as outright lies.

But Republicans aren't taking the attacks lying down.

"The Democrats tried to cover it up when they robbed $500 billion from Medicare to pay for their government takeover of health care, and now they're using false scare tactics to again cover up the real Democrat plan to put a bureaucrat in-between seniors and their doctor," Joanna Burgos, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement to FoxNews.com.

"The reality is that the Republican budget blueprint saves Medicare for future generations with no disruption for those in and near retirement, while the Democrats' plan cuts Medicare benefits and raise taxes on job creators and every person who receives a paycheck."