Newt Gingrich now says he didn’t criticize Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan

Holly Bailey

Newt Gingrich appears to be digging himself even deeper in the controversy over his comments to NBC's "Meet the Press" about Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal.

In an radio interview with Rush Limbaugh today, the former House speaker now says he wasn't referring to the Ryan plan when he used the phrase "right-wing social engineering" to describe GOP effort to retool Medicare. In fact, Gingrich insists he didn't criticize the Wisconsin congressman's proposal at all--even though he later apologized to Ryan for doing so.

"It was not a reference to Paul Ryan. There was no reference to Paul Ryan," Gingrich said today, per The Atlantic's Chris Good.

Limbaugh asked why the speaker subsequently apologized to Ryan if he wasn't talking about his plan.

"It was interpreted in a way which was causing trouble which he doesn't need or deserve," the former House speaker said.

This is significant shift from Gingrich's remarks Tuesday night on Fox News, in which he declared, "I made a mistake."

"I made two mistakes. First of all ... I should have said I'm not going to answer [the question]. It's a hypothetical baloney question that had no hope of happening," Gingrich told Fox. "The second [mistake] was some of the words I used."

On Sunday, NBC host David Gregory asked Gingrich if Republicans should be recommending that Medicare be transformed into a private insurance system, which Ryan's budget plan proposes.

"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," Gingrich replied, seemingly in reference to the Ryan plan. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."

Gingrich insisted there are other ways to fix the system, prompting Gregory to interject, "But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare."

"I think that that is too big a jump," Gingrich replied.

(You can read the full transcript of Gingrich's appearance on NBC here.)

The 2012 presidential hopeful's comments prompted a barrage of criticism from top Republicans and sent Gingrich and his campaign into serious damage control, leading to his appearance on Limbaugh's show today. But it's unclear if Gingrich's efforts are doing his campaign any real favors--or simply prolonging a debate the former House speaker desperately wishes would go away.

(Photo of Gingrich on Meet the Press: William B. Plowman/NBC via AP)