The Villages, Fla.
“This is my mom Betty,” vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said as he took the stage at a campaign rally with his 78-year-old mother in Florida’s largest retirement community. “She's why I'm here,” Ryan continued. “She and her grandkids are why I'm here.”
On the campaign trail this week, Ryan’s discussion of Medicare has focused on President Obama’s taking $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, along with brief reassurances that he and Mitt Romney will protect the program. But in Florida today, Ryan put Medicare front and center. He both stepped up his attacks on Obamacare’s plan to change Medicare for current seniors and made a positive case for reforming the program for Americans under the age of 55. Ryan warned that Obamacare installed a board of bureaucrats that will “cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.” And he framed his case for reform in terms of family values—in terms of his own obligation to protect Medicare as it is today for his mother, and to reform it in his generation so that his children will benefit from a social safety net and a debt-free nation.
Ryan began his remarks on Medicare by making the issue personal rather than abstract. “Like a lot of Americans, 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,” Ryan said. “You know, my grandma moved in with us, with my mom and me, when I was in high school. She had advanced Alzheimer's. My mom and I were her two primary care givers.”
“You learn a lot about life,” Ryan said. “You learn a lot about Alzheimer's. And Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma when we needed it then. And Medicare is there for my mom while she needs it now. And we have to keep that guarantee.”
Ryan said his mother has been on Medicare for “over ten years.” There were chuckles from the crowd of seniors when Ryan added: “I won't tell you exactly how many years over ten years.” (This echoed a grace note Florida senator Marco Rubio used when discussing his own mother in his defense of Paul Ryan's Medicare reforms when he was running for the Senate two years ago.)
“She planned her retirement around this promise that the government made her because she paid her payroll taxes into this program,” Ryan continued. “That's a promise we have to keep.”
Then Ryan pivoted to attack Obama’s plans to change Medicare for current seniors. “Here’s what President Obama won’t tell you about his Medicare plan, about Obamacare. The president raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obamacare program.” But it gets worse, Ryan said. “He puts a board of 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 that according to Medicare officials, under Obama’s Medicare plan “one out of six of our hospitals and our nursing homes will go out of business,” and “four million seniors are projected to lose their Medicare Advantage plans that they enjoy and they chose today.”
“What's worse is the president's campaign calls this an achievement. Do you think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement? Do you think that empowering a board of bureaucrats to cut Medicare is an achievement?” Ryan asked. “Neither do I. Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank for Obamacare. Medicare should be the promise that is made to our current seniors period, end of story.”
“Here is what Mitt Romney and I will do,” he said. “We will end the raid of Medicare. We will restore the promise of this program and we will make sure that this board of bureaucrats will not mess with my mom's health care or your mom's health care.”
Then, as he’s done at dozens of town halls in his congressional district over the past two years, Ryan made the positive case for reforming Medicare for future generations of seniors. “Now, let me just see a show of hands, how many of you are 55 or over?” Ryan asked. Thousands of hands shot up. “Okay,” Ryan said with a laugh.
“Our solution to preserve, protect and save Medicare does not affect your benefits,” Ryan told the 55-and-older crowd. “Let me repeat that: Our plan does not affect the benefits for people who are in or near retirement. It's a promise that was made, and it's a promise that must be kept.”
Ryan explained that “in order to make sure we can guarantee that promise for my mom's generation for those baby boomers retiring every day, we must reform it for my generation. To save it for this generation, you have to reform it for my generation, so it doesn't go bankrupt when we want to retire.”
Ryan pointed out that his plan for Americans 54 years old and younger is a bipartisan plan that “originated in the Clinton commission plan to save Medicare in the late 1990s.”
“It's a plan that says do not change benefits for people 55 and above, and for those of us who are younger, when we become Medicare eligible, we get a choice of guaranteed coverage options--guaranteed affordability, including traditional Medicare. So we get to pick a plan for us, when we retire, and that means all those providers compete against each other for our business, and we don't have to beg for the mercy of 15 bureaucrats whether or not we get our health care. We think the best way to save Medicare is to empower 50 million seniors, not 15 unelected bureaucrats to make their decisions how they get their health care. Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare so that the promises that were made, that people organize their retirements around like my mom, are promises that will be kept.”
Ryan argued that growing the economy and reining in the debt would help us keep that promise.
How did Ryan do? The crowd seemed to like it a lot. "The most important thing he can do is explain what he wants and what he's doing," said Pat Meyer, a South Florida native who now resides in the Villages. Meyer thinks Romney made a "great pick" in Paul Ryan. "He brought a lot of fire back" to the campaign, Meyer said of Ryan.
And what did "Boston"—i.e., Romney headquarters—think of the event? One source said, "'Boston' was nervous early this morning. They watched it on TV. At first they were relieved. Then they were excited."