Thank you very much. I appreciate the introduction, and this chance to be with you in New Orleans. You’ve had a busy convention, and I know that many of you also made time yesterday to volunteer around this great city. It was very much in the spirit of a group whose motto calls members to the service of others. It was also very much in the spirit of this generous country.
This country honors those who serve – and we have set aside today to remember those men and women in uniform who were taken as prisoners of war or went missing in action. To honor those who have endured this hardship, and to remember those who remain missing, I’d like to begin with a moment of silent prayer.
I thank you for that, and for your kind hospitality this morning.
Life at 50-plus. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m told that can happen before you know it. I’m a little more focused these days on my forties, and in particular on the next four years. But I have given a good deal of thought to later seasons in life, not just as someone with his own family to look after, but as someone with public responsibilities as well. Many in Washington who held office long before I came along made some big and fundamental commitments. It will fall to my generation to make sure those commitments are kept.
The challenges would be enormous under any circumstances; they are even tougher in a bad economy. Many Americans over 50 are wondering: Will I lose my job before I’m ready to retire? Will the health and retirement security programs I’ve been counting on be there for me? What will happen to my savings if the value of the dollar keeps going down? What kind of nation are we leaving to our kids?
You’re right to ask these questions. You’re right to worry that years of empty promises by both political parties are threatening the security of your golden years. And you’re right to demand honest answers from those asking for your vote.
Mitt Romney and I share your concerns. And we respect you enough to level with you. We respect all the people of this country enough to talk about the clear choices we face on Medicare, Social Security, the economy, and the kind of country our children will inherit.
I’ll warn you ahead of time – these are very serious challenges. Sometimes, the math can be a little overwhelming. But let’s just start with some simple subtraction: 2012 minus 50.
If you’re turning 50 this year, you were born in 1962 – the dawn of a new era in American politics: JFK … civil rights … Vietnam. By the time you were learning long division, Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon.
Government was making new promises to older Americans. When Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, he pledged: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine… No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts.”
There are two sides to that promise – obligations to old and young alike. And we must honor both.
Today, our nation faces a political turning point. Government mismanagement and political cowardice are threatening both sides of LBJ’s pledge. Seniors are threatened by Obamacare, a law that would force steep cuts to real benefits in real time for real people. Meanwhile, younger Americans are burdened by an ever-growing national debt and a diminished future.
Here’s the good news: By embracing common-sense reforms now, we can get ahead of the problem and keep the promises people have organized their lives around. If we reform Medicare for my generation, we can protect it for those in or near retirement today.
The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare, because it represents the worst of both worlds. It weakens Medicare for today’s seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation. First, it funnels $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. Second, it puts 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of Medicare’s future. Let’s talk about each in turn.
By now you’ve probably heard a lot of claims and counter-claims about the President’s raid on Medicare. The President said this would actually strengthen the program. He said it would improve the program’s solvency. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s just not true.
The money wasn’t walled off to stay in Medicare. Instead, the law turned Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask the chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He works for the Obama administration, and his job is to look after your Medicare. Last year, we invited him to Congress to answer a simple question: If President Obama’s Medicare cuts were used to pay for new spending in Obamacare, how can they also improve Medicare’s solvency?
His answer? They can’t. It’s simple: You can’t spend the same dollar twice. His exact words were, “It takes two sets of money to make it happen.” President Obama spent one set on a government takeover of health care, and he never provided the other to strengthen Medicare.
So there it is, from the guy whose job it is to know. If anyone tries to tell you that Obamacare strengthened Medicare, just ask them, “Where’s the other $716 billion?”
But that’s not all the new health-care law did. You see, Medicare is going bankrupt. Everyone understands this. Even President Obama said last year, “If you look at the numbers, Medicare in particular will run out of money, and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up.”
So the disagreement isn’t about the problem. It’s about the solution. You might have heard about the approach Mitt Romney and I would take, which I will lay out for you. But you probably haven’t heard much about what President Obama would do. The President doesn’t talk much about what Obamacare will really mean for seniors. And anyone who understands the details knows why: People don’t like it.
The President’s health-care law set up something called the Independent Payment Advisory Board. It will be made up of 15 unelected bureaucrats. The President has said he will appoint “experts,” but none of the fifteen are required by law to have any medical training.
And here’s the thing: As Medicare spending grows, this board is required to cut it. Unless Congress overrides these cuts with a supermajority vote, they automatically become law.
Think about what this means. I know AARP was just involved in the annual debate over the so-called “doc fix.” Back in 1997, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a budget deal that included large reductions in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Well, it soon became clear that these cuts would make it impossible for many doctors to keep treating Medicare patients. So every year, like clockwork, Congress postpones the cuts.
Some of us learned a lesson from that experience: Top-down, bureaucratic cuts to Medicare just don’t work. Providers stop providing care.
Unfortunately, some Democrats, including the President, learned a different lesson: They never gave up on their belief in top-down, bureaucratic cuts. But they did learn that these cuts are very unpopular.
So Obamacare represents a first step in their new approach: They want to take responsibility for these cuts out of the hands of your elected representatives and give it to unelected bureaucrats. They want to let them make the decisions – and let them take the heat.
Here’s Medicare’s chief actuary again, on what that would mean: These cuts could be so severe, he said, that they could “jeopardiz[e] access to care for beneficiaries.”
I deal with actuaries a lot as Chairman of the House Budget Committee. They tend to be mild-mannered folks. So when one says something like that, here’s what it means in plain English: Red Alert – do not proceed with this plan.
But you know President Obama’s slogan, right? Forward. Forward into a future where seniors are denied the care they earned because a bureaucrat decided it wasn’t worth the money.
So now you’ve got the full story about President Obama’s approach. Let me tell you what Mitt Romney and I believe – and what we will do if we are elected 46 days from now.
When I think about Medicare, I don’t just think about charts and graphs and numbers. My thoughts go back to a house on Garfield Street in Janesville. My wonderful grandma, Janet, had Alzheimer’s and moved in with Mom and me. Though she felt lost at times, we did all the little things that made her feel loved.
We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it’s there for my Mom today. My Mom is here with me today. She is a Florida senior. That time in my life, when my Nana lived with my mom and me, is when we grew the closest. I’m very proud of my Mom, and I’m happy she is having a great retirement. Medicare is a big part of her security.
Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.
Our plan keeps the protections that have made Medicare a guaranteed promise for seniors throughout the years. It makes no changes for those in or near retirement.
Now, in order to save Medicare for future generations, we propose putting 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their own health-care decisions.
Our plan empowers future seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them from a list of plans that are required to offer at least the same level of benefits as traditional Medicare.
This financial support system is designed to guarantee that seniors can always afford Medicare coverage – no exceptions.
And if a senior wants to choose the traditional Medicare plan, then she will have that right.
Our idea is to force insurance companies to compete against each other to better serve seniors, with more help for the poor and the sick – and less help for the wealthy.
We’ve seen this kind of reform work in Medicare Part D – the program for prescription drugs. Choice and competition helped bring it in at 40 percent below cost projections. We’ve applied these lessons and improved upon them.
By the way, these aren’t just Republican ideas. Medicare reforms based on choice and competition go back to the Clinton administration. Experts from both parties helped form this plan. Democrats in Congress have supported these ideas.
Mitt and I studied these bipartisan ideas. We looked at the numbers. And we came up with a plan to save this critical program.
We did the same thing with Social Security. We know it’s in trouble – and we know what’s at stake. If we do not act, today’s seniors will face a 25 percent, across-the-board benefit cut in the heart of their retirements.
We also know what to do. Mitt Romney and I have put our plan on the table. We will make no changes for those in or near retirement. And for my generation, we can make this program solvent by slightly raising the retirement age over time and slowing the growth of benefits for those with higher incomes.
All that we need now is leaders who have the political will to save and strengthen Social Security. But when it comes to protecting this program, President Obama has come up short. The President has no plan – and no plan doesn’t mean leaving Social Security as it is; it means letting it grow weaker. Inaction today will mean sharp cuts tomorrow. Time and again, this President has ducked the tough issues. He’s put his own job security over your retirement security.
Of course, he said he’d 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. And that man is Mitt Romney.
In a state where 87 percent of the state legislature was Democratic, Governor Romney got real results by reaching across the aisle, bringing people together, and crafting solutions that got widespread support. That’s how he was able to turn a $3 billion budget shortfall into a $2 billion rainy-day fund. That’s how he was able to cut taxes 19 times and balance the budget all four years. And that’s the kind of leadership we need if we’re going to save and strengthen Medicare and Social Security.
Protecting Social Security is personal for me. My Dad died when I was sixteen. Social Security survivors’ benefits helped my family. They helped me go to school. And they helped my mom start a new career.
When Dad died, my Mom had recently entered her fifties – just like many of you. She got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison to go to school. She learned new skills to start her small business. It wasn’t just a new livelihood. It was a new life. And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a successful small businesswoman. Her work gave her hope. It made our family proud. And to this day, my Mom is my role model.
For people over 50, retirement security is part of a larger goal. Economic security is what we seek for all Americans. The last four years have been especially hard on Americans who are out of work, but not yet ready to retire. I’ve met men and women who are close to giving up hope that they’ll ever be employed again. Mitt has called long-term unemployment an economic emergency, and he’s right. We haven’t seen a “recovery” this bad in decades. For many Americans, there’s been no recovery at all.
For people who find themselves without a job before they’re ready to retire, starting or joining a small business offers a promising way to bridge the gap – just like my mom did. But President Obama’s policies have made it harder for small businesses to thrive.
The President likes to talk about how he is a champion for small business on the basis of a few temporary tax measures. But the truth is, if re-elected, President Obama has actually promised to raise the tax rates that many successful small businesses pay to over 40 percent – permanently.
Mitt and I just think that’s the wrong approach. We believe that it’s the dreamers and the entrepreneurs, the workers and the families, not the government, who built this economy. They are the ones who are going to get it growing again – and get Americans working again.
In a Romney-Ryan administration, we’re going to champion small businesses and the workers they employ, not stand in their way. We’ve got a plan that will reform the tax code, get rid of special-interest loopholes and limit deductions so that we can lower everybody’s tax rates. Simple. Fair. Competitive. That’s the tax code families and small businesses deserve. That’s how you get people back to work. And that’s the tax code we will deliver.
We’re also going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with real reform. That’s going to give businesses the certainty they need to start hiring again.
And in a Romney-Ryan administration, American workers and small businesses will start getting the respect they deserve. After all their hard work, what they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.
There’s another threat to our economic security, and that’s the debt. It’s hurting our economy now – and if we don’t tackle it soon, it will tackle us.
The President came into office promising to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. Instead, he added $5 trillion to the debt, and presided over our nation’s first credit downgrade.
If we continue down the road that Europe is on, we’ll get European results: Harsh cuts in benefits for those who depend on them, along with crushing tax hikes.
The Federal Reserve can’t keep bailing us out forever. It can only offer a short-term fix that comes at a long-term cost – and it’s our seniors who will literally pay the price. The Fed’s actions are already having an effect on energy prices and food prices, forcing our nation’s seniors to stretch their fixed incomes. All this money-printing hurts savers. It threatens the future value of our money – and seniors are bearing most of the risk.
Mitt Romney and I will take America off this dangerous path. We’ll bring back real economic growth. We’ll cut and cap spending. And we’ll restore America’s triple-A credit rating.
We can do this. We still have time to get this right.
Whenever I think about the challenges we’re facing, I think of my Mom. Whether it’s the mid-career worker who has to start over, the senior who relies on Medicare today, or the grandparent who wants to make sure her grandkids inherit a stronger America, she is my inspiration. Because I had such a strong example in my own life, I have an unshakeable belief in the resilience, wisdom and ability of the American people to solve these problems.
For mid-career Americans, let’s put a President in the White House who will champion small businesses, so people can go back to work.
For those on Medicare today, let’s repeal Obamacare. Let’s keep our promises to seniors.
And for future generations, let’s strengthen our health and retirement security programs so they can count on them when they retire. Let’s grow the economy so they have opportunities to succeed. And let’s work to leave our grandkids with a debt-free nation.
It will be a long journey … and we can make that journey only together. So I ask you today to join us in the work to come. Your support – and the programs you care about – have been taken for granted long enough. Let’s meet these challenges, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. Join us, help us, work with us, and I know that we can get this done.
Thank you, and God bless. Now I’d be happy to take your questions.