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Carnahan hears from pro-Medicare, pro-Social Security crowd

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 3, 2011 - About 10,000 residents in the current 3rd congressional district got a chance Thursday to listen and talk to U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, about their concerns -- which, in this crowd, skewed toward protecting Social Security and Medicare, while also creating jobs.

"Carol" (none of the questioners gave last names) asked during the telephone "town hall" how she could pay her bills if more is taken out of her Social Security check to pay her monthly Medicare premiums. She was concerned that Republicans may succeed with their proposals to make deep cuts in the health-care program for the elderly.

Carnahan replied by defending Medicare, saying that the federal government should first curb subsidies like the $50 billion that annually goes to major oil companies.

That declaration smoothly led to "Richard'' complaining about corporate subsidies, saying such aid should be for emerging technologies, not existing ones like the oil industry, which already is making record profits.

And then there was "Linda."

"I just want to know how the Democrats can take over the conversation,'' she said, explaining that Democrats are failing to push back against Republicans' proposed budget cuts, by emphasizing the view of many economists that it's wrong to engage in deep budget cuts during a recession.

Carnahan, of course, agreed with her contention that Democrats also need to promote the good that has been achieved by the federal stimulus spending, which "Linda" said has kept the nation from sinking into even worse economic trouble.

The half-hour tele-conference was followed by a poll of the participants which underscored that they were mainly of one mind. More than 80 percent opposed "privatizing and ending Medicare and Medicaid,'' as the question was phrased. Almost 90 percent opposed "privatizing Social Security.''

When asked to rate their top concerns, 35 percent cited "job creation,'' followed closely by protecting Social Security.

Carnahan spokesman Sam Drzymala acknowledged that the participants were not a scientific sample and appeared to lean Democratic. Some had been selected through a random collection of telephone numbers of district voters, while other participants came from those who previously had written or contacted the congressman.

About 20,000 people were contacted through automated calls and invited to join in the town hall, Drzymala said. About half actually participated in the tele-conference. Because the town hall was in the mid-afternoon, Drzymala acknowledges that the bulk of the participants were likely older.

The point, said Drzymala, was for Carnahan to underscore his commitment to all district voters that he remains a strong supporter of the entitlement programs important to the elderly -- and younger voters, as well, according to various polls.

The tele-conference comes as Carnahan is still mulling his political options. His 3rd District is being split up in the new redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly, which overruled Gov. Jay Nixon's veto.

Although Carnahan has not ruled out a legal challenge of the new map, he also hasn't ruled out running in either the 1st District -- where his current St. Louis residence will be situated, under the new boundaries --  or the redrawn 2nd District, which also will include part of the current 3rd.

The new 2nd District would appear to lean Republican, but there will be no incumbent on the ballot in 2012 because the 2nd District's current congressman, Republican Todd Akin, is running for the U.S. Senate.

The 1st District is occupied by a fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, who acknowledges that he encouraged some district state legislators to overturn Nixon's veto.

Clay also has been a fan lately of telephone town halls.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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