It's not the easiest time to be a California Republican in Congress—you've got a controversial deficit deal that some in your party think didn't go far enough, that will likely favor Democrats, and, if you're U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, a looking to smack you down in 2012.
Those pressures were on display Thursday evening at a town hall meeting at the , where about 150 constituents turned out to grill the Congressman on everything from the debt ceiling to oil company subsidies.
One young woman was ejected from the hall early in the meeting after she stood up to scold Lungren on spending cuts she said were compromising her generation's future. (See attached video.)
"People have master's degrees and they're working at Starbucks," she said. "You should go to jail along with Obama."
Lungren then spent time defending the compromise Congress recently reached on reducing the national deficit, seeming to aim his remarks at conservatives in the audience. The deal put the issue of debt on the national agenda, he said, though it didn't include a Constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget, a goal cherished by Tea Party activists.
"Is it everything we wanted? Not in a long shot," he said. "It's like a 12-round heavyweight championship fight."
During the question and answer session, the polarized crowd, which included sizeable sections of liberal MoveOn.org activists and red-shirted , often interrupted to clap, laugh, or heckle Lungren and each other.
At one point, an audience member asked a question about highly profitable oil companies receiving government subsidies. "As far as I know, oil companies and other corporations are paying their taxes," Lungren began, but was quickly interrupted by shouts of "What planet are you on?" and "No billionaire left behind!"
As in many political discussions in the United States these days, audience members' critiques fell into two main buckets: The federal government was spending too much, or it wasn't spending enough.
One man brought up unemployment and wanted to know when the federal government was going to lay off more workers.
"I see thousands of TSA employees just standing around [at the airport]," he said.
"We are reviewing every contract that the House of Representatives has," Lungren responded. "I think you're going to see some very serious reductions in different federal agencies and departments."
Two comments did draw broad applause from the crowd: Lungren's mention that he wanted to get rid of corn ethanol subsidies, and a proposal from an audience member to increase income taxes on millionaires.
"I don't think it solves the problem," Lungren said of taxing the rich. If he could personally revamp the tax system, he said, he'd impose a flat tax rate on everyone or get rid of income tax altogether.
The Congressman appeared relaxed during the questioning, though he did pause to chastise the audience for their rowdiness.
"I was told by my parents to be respectful of others," he said.
Still, Lungren was short on answers for audience members who asked about specific local problems, including a teacher who wanted help refinancing her upside-down mortgage and a sheet metal worker who complained about international trade agreements pushing area jobs overseas.
"I don't see a program that would be able to answer your question without jeopardizing the ultimate recovery of the market," he told the teacher.
On trade, he said, "Trade agreements give us an opportunity to be able to to create and take advantage of markets overseas," before mentioning support for a U.S.-Colombia trade agreement under consideration in Congress. The pact faces criticism from human rights activists because of attacks on union leaders in Colombia.
Afterwards, the sheet metal worker, 47-year-old Sal Rotolo of Elk Grove, said he was "very disappointed" with Lungren's response.
"He talked about opening up markets as if it was markets for trade when they are obviously markets for cheap labor," he said.
Kim Matranga, a 59-year-old water aerobics instructor attending her first town hall meeting, said she found Lungren well-spoken and sympathetic in response to some tough questions.
"There are a lot of angry people out there, and understandably so, but it's our economy and the mess we're in," she said.
Lungren faces a from Elk Grove Democrat Dr. Ami Bera, who lost to him in the last election but has in campaign funds in the first six months of this year. On Thursday, he brushed off questions about that race.
"I'm eight months into this two-year term and I've been concentrating on doing this job," he said.