THE VILLAGES, Fla. – In front of thousands of Florida seniors, Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan made a highly emotional appeal for his Medicare reforms and slammed a 15-member board charged with slowing the cost growth of the popular entitlement program.
Ryan had some help from his mother, 78-year-old Betty Douglas, a part-time Florida resident who appeared on stage with him as he began his speech and was the center of the argument he made that Republicans are trying to keep Medicare solvent for future generations.
“Like a lot of Americans, when I think about Medicare it's not just a program, it’s not just a bunch of numbers, it's what my mom relies on, it's what my grandma had,” Ryan said.
He told the story of his grandmother relying on Medicare after she developed advanced Alzheimer’s and moved in with Ryan and his mother. “Medicare was there for our family,” he said, stressing the importance of preserving the “guarantee” of Medicare for people close to retirement or already retired.
Under proposals backed by Mitt Romney and Ryan, any changes to the program would not affect Americans 55 or older—a big part of Ryan’s audience Saturday as demonstrated by the number of hands that went up when he asked about the crowd’s age.
Ryan singled out two villains in his address: President Obama, who he and Romney repeatedly have said “raided” $716 billion from Medicare to pay for the 2010 health care law; and the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an unelected panel tasked with slowing the cost growth of Medicare. Ryan has said the latter will put health care providers out of business and lead to seniors being denied care. Under the health care law, IPAB will have the authority to implement changes to Medicare unless Congress explicitly rejects them.
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“We will restore the promise of this program, and we will make sure that this board of bureaucrats will not mess with my mom’s healthcare or your mom’s healthcare,” he pledged of the plan he and Romney are offering.
Democrats have suggested that Romney and Ryan’s program – which would give seniors vouchers to purchase either traditional Medicare or private insurance – would drive up costs that fall on those in the program by thousands of dollars, a claim based on an older Medicare reform proposal by Ryan that has since been modified. Ryan contends his plan will lead to guaranteed options and affordability.
“Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare so that the promises that were made, that people organized their retirements around like my mom, will be promises that are kept,” he said.
Up until now, Ryan has only made brief references to Medicare in his speeches, choosing to focus on the cuts in Medicare’s growth made by Obama. The Saturday speech in Florida, a week after his candidacy was announced, marks the first time he has spent the bulk of an address not only criticizing the president but also outlining his own proposals.
For all of the attacks on Ryan’s plan, people in the crowd seemed unconcerned about his proposals.
“I believe Ryan’s telling the truth when he says he’s not going to change it for those that are currently on it and that solidifies my vote,” said Tom Able, a resident of the Villages who came to see Ryan with his wife, Sharon.
"There is a plan. That’s what impresses us," he said.
Before traveling to Florida, Ryan taped an interview that aired Saturday on WJLA in Washington, D.C. in which he indicated that he would support delaying $600 billion in defense cuts – known as the sequester – if an agreement is not reached before the spending reductions are set to take place at the start of 2013.
"Under any scenario I do not want to see the sequester take place. These would be irresponsible and devastating. The president has shown no leadership on this,” Ryan said. “So we're going to do everything we can to prevent the sequester from taking place, because we think it's going to lead to a lot of job losses in lots of places."
His position puts him in line with Romney, who has also suggested that the cuts be delayed. Ryan also pointed to a bill passed by the House that would undo the defense cuts by slashing other areas of spending.