THE VILLAGES -- People hoping the addition of House budget chief Paul Ryan to the Republican presidential ticket would lead to a serious and substantive debate about entitlement reform may be disappointed.
Based on Ryan’s first campaign stop in senior-rich Florida on Saturday, it looks increasingly like the debate will be typical “Medi-scare” politics, with both sides accusing the other of gutting Medicare or wanting to.
“The president raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obamacare program,” Ryan, 42, said to boos from thousands of supporters in this sprawling retirement community before heading to Pinellas County for a private fundraiser.
“In addition to that he puts a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors,” he said, referring to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that gives an independent panel authority to rein in Medicare spending if the program grows too fast.
Ryan voted in support of essentially the same $700 billion in reductions to Medicare growth but on Saturday he offered few specifics about his own proposal or Mitt Romney’s.
“(Ryan) didn’t say that if he had his way, Medicare would be bankrupt in just four years, or that he would give $150 billion taxpayer dollars back to private insurance companies, which raises costs for everyone,” said Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner. “He didn’t say that they’d turn Medicare into a voucher system, ending the Medicare guarantee and raising costs by $6,400 a year for seniors. And he certainly didn’t say that they’d do it all to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. But those are the facts, and the 'substantive’ debate he claims they want requires Romney and Ryan to be honest about them.”
Romney needs to win over seniors comfortably to carry must-win Florida, and some Republicans worry that Ryan’s sweeping proposal for Medicare reform for future beneficiaries could hurt him. So the Romney campaign is aggressively attacking Obama for cutting future growth in Medicare spending.
In the week since Ryan joined the ticket and campaigned in Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa and Wisconsin, entitlements have overtaken the economy as the dominant issue of the 2012 campaign. Much of his 21-minute Florida speech hailed Romney, but Ryan spent more time on Medicare than at any event since Romney picked him.
The Wisconsin Republican got personal in assuring Floridians he’s no enemy of Medicare and chose a picture-perfect setting: The Villages, a massive 55-and-over community about 50 miles northwest of Orlando, and one of the biggest Republican strongholds in Florida. The town square was filled with white-haired men and women waving American flags and cheering as Ryan touted his and Romney’s commitment to Medicare in a state where nearly 3.4 million annually receive $25.2 billion in Medicare services.
“Say hi to my mom, Betty,” he said, introducing his 78-year-old mother, a part-time Broward County resident.
“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, recounting how his grandmother moved in with him and his mother when he was in high school after she developed advanced Alzheimer’s disease.