Paul Ryan to seniors: Medicare 'going bankrupt,' competition is answer
At an AARP conference Friday, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke of financial peril ahead for Medicare and contrasted his party's "competition"-based plan to fix it with Obama's plan under the health-care reform law.
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Both sides agree that Medicare faces a looming shortfall for covering full benefits, as the number of older Americans soars.Skip to next paragraph
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The timing of Ryan's speech was especially sensitive, given that Romney has been scrambling this week to overcome bad publicity about remarks to campaign donors that were caught on videotape. He said 47 percent of Americans wouldn't vote for him because they don't pay taxes and are "dependent" on government.
Some seniors took the comment to be aimed in part at them. Retirees may pay no income tax, although they have paid payroll and other taxes during working careers. At the same time, Ryan's speech offered the potential for the campaign to change the subject to substantive policy matters.
The very notion of reforming Medicare or Social Security has long been viewed as a politically dangerous subject for politicians to touch.
Just as Ryan waded head-on into the danger zone Friday, a new Romney campaign ad does so, as well: In it Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida says, "Anyone who is for leaving Medicare like it is, is for letting it go bankrupt." The ad said the program can be saved, but "only if younger Americans accept that our Medicare will be different than our parents' when we retire."
In his speech, Ryan pitched this as the realistic view. "We respect you enough to level with you," he told the audience. He said Romney's aim would be to work out reforms with bipartisan support, and that some Democrats have already embraced the concepts urged by the GOP candidates.
Responding to an audience question, Ryan said the goal is to avoid a public-debt crisis that could emerge for America in coming years, as has occurred in some European nations.
Ryan also addressed Social Security in his speech. He said projected shortfalls in that program can be fixed with a few changes: raising the retirement age modestly and gradually (starting in the 2020s), and holding wealthier seniors to a slower rise in benefits. Citing some Social Security recipients now in poverty, he said benefits for the lowest-income seniors should rise.
The Obama and Ryan remarks also come as the AARP itself faces some negative publicity. In a Wall Street Journal column, Kimberly Strassel said that newly public e-mails from 2009 and 2010 show the AARP cooperating with the Obama White House to get his health insurance reforms passed. The conservative columnist argued that the Obama law "sets the stage for rationing," and that its moves set the AARP's leadership at odds with many of its members.
In a New York Times/CBS poll released this week, 40 percent of Americans say Medicare will need "major changes" to become financially sound, while 36 percent said "minor changes," and others said no change or were unsure.
On Obama's Affordable Care Act, the poll found that 15 percent of Americans would keep the law as is, and 22 percent would like to see it expanded. But 26 percent would like to see the law's mandate on individuals to buy insurance repealed, and another 30 percent want the whole law repealed.