President Barack Obama accused Republicans of threatening the future of Social Security and Medicare while Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said only he and Mitt Romney are offering “honest answers” about how to preserve the programs.
Obama and Ryan today addressed the biggest U.S. advocacy group for senior citizens as they made appeals for the votes of a constituency that traditionally goes to the polls on Election Day at a higher proportion than other groups.
The president, speaking via satellite to a gathering of AARP in New Orleans, pledged to keep both programs solvent for current and future recipients and promised that over the next decade the average Medicare beneficiary will save $5,000 as a result of his health-care law.
He said Republican criticism of the measure, passed by Congress “hasn’t been completely on the level” and that a plan Ryan has pushed for as House Budget Committee chairman would replace Medicare with a “voucher that wouldn’t keep up with costs.”
Ryan, speaking in person to the group in New Orleans following Obama’s appearance, drew some boos from the audience when he said he and Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, would work to repeal the health-care law.
“The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare, because it represents the worst of both worlds,” Ryan said. Responding to the boos, he said, “I had a feeling there would be mixed reaction, so let me get into it.”
He said the law “weakens Medicare for today’s seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation.”
Obama and Romney kept up their recent exchanges over who can break the political deadlock in Washington during separate campaign appearances later in the day. Romney repeated his claim that Obama has been ineffective as a leader, with Obama responding that his challenger would let Washington insiders dominate government.
AARP claims more than 37 million members. In an election that both campaigns forecast will be close, Obama and Romney are seeking an edge with every constituency. Medicare and Social Security, which primarily benefit those 65 years of age and older, are key issues with older voters.
In a dozen battleground states, including Florida and Virginia, voters said they have more faith that Obama will preserve Medicare than Romney by 50 percent to 44 percent, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. The Sept. 11-17 poll of 1,096 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The health-care law championed by Obama is one of the central points of debate in the campaign. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act scales back payments to Medicare Advantage plans, an alternative to traditional Medicare. It also slows the growth of Medicare payments to hospitals and other health-care providers. Seniors’ benefits weren’t reduced in the legislation.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that Medicare spending will reach $887 billion in 2020, up from $499 billion in actual spending in 2009.
Ryan, a U.S. representative from Wisconsin, has produced a budget blueprint that would convert Medicare to a voucher plan, a proposal that has drawn scorn from seniors’ groups, including the AARP, because it would end Medicare as a defined-benefit program.
While the current law plows its projected savings back into subsidies to help low-income individuals buy insurance, the Ryan plan counts the money toward debt reduction.
“We respect all the people in 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,” Ryan said today. “Our plan keeps the protections that have made Medicare a guaranteed promise for seniors throughout the years.”
Ryan, as he has before, attacked the health-care law that passed Congress in 2010 for funneling $716 billion “out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for.”
Obama rejected Ryan’s contention that the law takes $716 billion out of Medicare.
“What we did was, we went after waste and fraud and overcharging by insurance companies for example. Those savings do come out to $716 million dollars,” Obama said.
Obama afterward spoke in front of a rally where again reminded his audience of the Sept. 17 release of the video of Romney’s remarks to donors in which he said 47 percent of Americans are government-dependent “victims” who don’t pay federal income taxes.
“I don’t believe we can get very far with leaders who can write off half the nation as a bunch of victims,” Obama said. “I don’t see a lot of victims in this crowd today.”
In Las Vegas, Romney repeated that Obama has raised “the white flag of surrender” on reviving the economy and making progress on legislation, keying off a statement the president made yesterday about changing Washington from the outside.
“Over history there have been people that have changed Washington from the outside,” Romney told donors at the Red Rock casino in Las Vegas. “This president has not done that.”
In Virginia, Obama derided Romney’s statement that he would change things from the inside.
“What kind of inside job is he talking about?” Obama asked. “Is it the job of rubberstamping the top-down, you’re-on-your-own agenda of this Republican Congress? Because if it is, we don’t want it.”