Paul Ryan’s speech to AARP’s national conference in New Orleans did not go over too well with the audience.
The Republican vice presidential nominee, who has led his party in proposing a privatization plan for Medicare, drew repeated jeers and catcalls as he made the case for Mitt Romney’s platform on entitlements.
Easily the worst moments came as Ryan discussed repealing the Affordable Care Act, which increased prescription drug and preventive service benefits for seniors.
“The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal ‘Obamacare,’” Ryan said, prompting a chorus of boos. After the outcry, he said: “I had a feeling there would be mixed reaction, so let me get into it.”
He drew a second wave of disapproval for saying the president’s law “turned Medicare into a piggy bank for ‘Obamacare.’” Ryan was referring to $716 billion in Medicare savings enacted by the ACA — savings he himself has included in two budgets — that largely came out of payments to insurance providers.
Another tough response from the crowd came as Ryan attacked Obama as a cynical failure for not negotiating changes to Social Security cuts with Republicans.
“Time and again the president has ducked the tough issues,” Ryan said. “He put his own job security over your retirement security. Of course he said he would be willing to work with Republicans, but he has not moved an inch closer to common ground. When it comes to bipartisanship, it’s easy to talk the talk but there is only one man running for president this year who has actually walked the walk: that man is Mitt Romney.”
President Obama drew a friendlier audience earlier in the day when he spoke to the group via satellite. Appearing to reference Romney’s “47 percent” video, in which the Republican condemned Americans as “victims” who were “dependent” on government health care, food and housing, Obama defended entitlements for seniors.
“Given the conversations that have been out there in the political arena lately, I want to emphasize: Medicare and Social Security are not handouts,” Obama said. “You’ve paid into these programs your whole lives. You’ve earned them.”
While Ryan’s reception was overwhelmingly negative, he had a few bright spots that earned applause, for example when he discussed how his Medicare plan would provide more generous subsidies for lower-income seniors to buy private insurance plans. He also got some cheers — after attacking Obama for most of his speech — for pledging bipartisan compromise if he and Romney are elected.
“Our plan is to win this election, be magnanimous and work with those Democrats who want to work with us to save this critical program,” he said, adding that Republicans should not “demagogue” the other side.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.