THE VILLAGES, Fla. - U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) warned Florida seniors about the perils of Medicare during a campaign appearance here on Saturday, telling an overflow crowd of mostly retired seniors that President Barack Obama had raided the entitlement program to help pay for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"We want to earn your support. We want to earn victory. So that when we win we have the mandates -- the moral authority -- to stop kicking the can down the road and get this country back on track," he said.
Ryan, who was joined at the campaign appearance by his mother, Betty Douglas, a part-time Lauderdale-By-The-Sea resident and Medicare recipient, drew clear distinctions between how he and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would reform Medicare.
"The first thing we have to remember is President Obama raided $716 billion from the Medicare program to help pay for the Obamacare program," he said during a one-on-one interview with WPTV NewsChannel 5. "He puts [forth] this new board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who are required to cut Medicare every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors. What Mitt Romney and I propose is to stop this raid, restore that money and get rid of this board that will lead to denied care for current seniors."Ryan said that under the plan he and Romney have proposed, Medicare benefits for the more than three million people in Florida enrolled in the program would remain unchanged if they were near retirement or 55-years-old or older.
Ryan stressed that he favors a system where future Medicare participants could opt to keep the current program’s structure as one of many options.
"In order to keep that promise," he said, "those of us in the younger generation -- because Medicare ultimately is going bankrupt -- we need to reform it."
Ryan said the proposed reform would require a bipartisan measure in Congress.
"It's an idea that came out of the Clinton Commission to save Medicare, where future seniors have guaranteed choices, where they have a menu of options to pick from, just like Medicare Advantage works today, or Medicare Part D, including traditional Medicare as an option and Medicare supports their premiums," he said. "What we have learned is reforming Medicare for the next generation of seniors allows us to keep the promise as it's known today for Medicare for current seniors."
Danny Kanner, a spokesperson for Obama for America, defended the president's position on Medicare after the campaign appearance, and said Ryan and Romney had lied to seniors about their plan for reform because its details were "politically suicidal."
"Seniors would face higher Medicare premiums and prescription drug costs and would be forced to pay out of pocket for preventive care," Kanner said. "[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. 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."
Ryan countered and said the campaign's assertion the proposed reforms would raise premiums and costs for seniors was inaccurate.
"Those statistics were misleading three years ago when they used them. They're even more misleading now," he said. "We need to restore this program because people who have already retired on the promise that Medicare would be there for them. And, that's a promise we have to keep."
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) weighed in on Sunday and said the plan would be "a radical overhaul to a program that has worked so well for so many for decades."
"At the same time they're doing that they're making cuts to Head Start which will impact so many families," he said. "Ten million students will lose their Pell grants."
CUBA, IMMIGRATION REFORM
During the one-one-one interview with WPTV NewsChannel 5, Ryan sought to reassure Cuban-Americans in South Florida that despite voting to lift the embargo against Cuba in 2001 and 2004 -- he has since supported the embargo -- he and Romney would maintain a hard line against the Communist regime.
"One of my best friends in Congress is Mario Diaz-Balart. I'm also good friends with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And, I've had some great meetings with them -- briefings from them -- over the last number of years about how important it is to make sure we stare down the Castro regime and we do nothing that helps embolden the Castro regime," he said. "Mitt Romney is as strong as anybody on this issue to see an end to the Castro regime."
Ryan, who voted against the Obama-backed DREAM Act and has opposed amnesty for most undocumented immigrants, said he supported -- but hadn't endorsed -- the immigration reform efforts of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).