In a campaign stop at The Villages Saturday— a massive retirement community in central Florida known for its Republican leanings — Paul Ryan delivered a speech aimed at reassuring the retiree audience that their Medicare would be safe under a Mitt Romney administration and warning that it’s in grave danger under a second term of President Obama.
The dual messages reflect the two-pronged attack the Romney campaign has employed since Medicare was thrust to the forefront of the race with Ryan’s selection. Ryan appears to have the rhetoric down to a science. On the one hand, he told the audience that he views the preservation of their benefits as a sacred trust.
“When I think about Medicare, it’s not just a program,” Ryan, whose mother — a snowbird who spends part of the year at another Florida retirement home — was in tow. “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.”
“We have to keep that guarantee,” Ryan said. He called the Medicare for current seniors “a promise we have to keep.”
He promised that he and Romney won’t touch Medicare for current seniors. Instead they’ll focus on “my generation,” as Ryan said.
But Ryan also focused closely on the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board, long a conservative bogeyman that Sarah Palin famously labeled a “death panel,” and which Ryan similarly warned was coming for seniors’ health care.
“[Obama] 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,” Ryan said. He warned the cuts and IPAB will lead to a health care apocalypse for current Medicare beneficiaries.
“One out six of our hospitals and our nursing homes will go out of business as a result of this,” Ryan said. “Four million seniors are projected to lose their Medicare Advantage plans that they chose and they enjoy today.”
Ryan promised he and Romney will keep the IPAB “from messing with my mom’s health care or your mom’s health care.”
Ryan and Romney need this message to land with seniors, especially in the all-important state of Florida. Ryan’s own Medicare plan has not polled well with seniors, so Ryan needs to persuade senior voters that he’s in now favor of something different.
The Obama campaign responded to Ryan’s Villages speech by charging that Ryan’s trying to escape his past.
“Rep. Ryan didn’t tell seniors in Florida today that if he had his way, seniors would face higher Medicare premiums and prescription drug costs, and would be forced to pay out of pocket for preventive care,” said Danny Kanner, an Obama campaign spokesperson. “He 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.”
The Obama campaign accused Ryan of avoiding detailed discussion about the Romney-Ryan plan to convert Medicare into a partial voucher system for the under-55 set, an idea that has also not proven very popular in polls.
“We know Florida seniors are smart and when they look at the details of the Romney-Ryan plan … they’re going to take a close look at that and we feel good about what the result will be,” Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on an Air Force One flight to New Hampshire Saturday, as Obama was en route to two campaign stops there.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman and chairwoman of the DNC, accused Ryan of cherry-picking his audience to deliver a defense of his Medicare plan she said won’t go down with most seniors outside the well-known GOP enclave that is The Villages.