THE VILLAGES, FL (WFLX) - U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) warned Florida seniors about the perils of Medicare during a campaign appearance here on Saturday, telling an overflow crowd of mostly retired seniors that President Barack Obama had raided the entitlement program to help pay for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"We want to earn your support. We want to earn victory. So that when we win we have the mandates -- the moral authority -- to stop kicking the can down the road and get this country back on track," he said.
Ryan, who was joined at the campaign appearance by his mother, Betty Douglas, a part-time Lauderdale-By-The-Sea resident and Medicare recipient, drew clear distinctions between how he and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would reform Medicare.
"The first thing we have to remember is President Obama raided $716 billion from the Medicare program to help pay for the Obamacare program," he said during a one-on-one interview with WFLX Fox 29. "He puts [forth] this new board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who are required to cut Medicare every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors. What Mitt Romney and I propose is to stop this raid, restore that money and get rid of this board that will lead to denied care for current seniors."Ryan said that under the plan he and Romney have proposed, Medicare benefits for the more than three million people in Florida enrolled in the program would remain unchanged if they were near retirement or 55-years-old or older.
Ryan stressed that he favors a system where future Medicare participants could opt to keep the current program's structure as one of many options. "In order to keep that promise, those of us in the younger generation -- because Medicare ultimately is going bankrupt -- we need to reform it," he said.
Ryan said the proposed reform would require a bipartisan measure in Congress.
"It's an idea that came out of the Clinton Commission to save Medicare, where future seniors have guaranteed choices, where they have a menu of options to pick from, just like Medicare Advantage works today, or Medicare Part D, including traditional Medicare as an option and Medicare supports their premiums," he said. "What we have learned is reforming Medicare for the next generation of seniors allows us to keep the promise as it's known today for Medicare for current seniors."
Danny Kanner, a spokesperson for Obama for America, defended the president's position on Medicare after the campaign appearance, and said Ryan and Romney had lied to seniors about their plan for reform because its details were "politically suicidal."
"Seniors would face higher Medicare premiums and prescription drug costs and would be forced to pay out of pocket for preventive care," Kanner said. "[Ryan] didn't say that if he had his way, Medicare would be bankrupt in just four years, or that he would give $150 billion taxpayer dollars back to private insurance companies, which raises costs for everyone. He didn't say that they'd turn Medicare into a voucher system, ending the Medicare guarantee and raising costs by $6,400 a year for seniors. And he certainly didn't say that they'd do it all to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."
Ryan countered and said the campaign's assertion the proposed reforms would raise premiums and costs for seniors was inaccurate.
"Those statistics were misleading three years ago when they used them. They're even more misleading now," he said. "We need to restore this program because people who have already retired on the promise that Medicare would be there for them. And, that's a promise we have to keep."
CUBA, IMMIGRATION REFORM
During the one-one-one interview with WPTV NewsChannel 5, Ryan sought to reassure Cuban-Americans in South Florida that despite voting to lift the embargo against Cuba in 2001 and 2004 -- he has since supported the embargo -- he and Romney would maintain a hard line against the Communist regime.
"One of my best friends in Congress is Mario Diaz-Balart. I'm also good friends with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And, I've had some great meetings with them -- briefings from them -- over the last number of years about how important it is to make sure we stare down the Castro regime and we do nothing that helps embolden the Castro regime," he said. "Mitt Romney is as strong as anybody on this issue to see an end to the Castro regime."
Ryan, who voted against the Obama-backed DREAM Act and has opposed amnesty for most undocumented immigrants, said he supported -- but hadn't endorsed -- the immigration reform efforts of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
"I've been impressed with Marco Rubio's leadership on this issue," he said. "Marco Rubio was on the cusp of introducing the bipartisan solution to immigration problems. President Obama preempted that with what many people think is an unconstitutional move and denied the ability to have a bipartisan solution to these legitimate immigration issues that we have to solve."
Countering critics who perceived him and Romney as weak on national security and foreign policy, Ryan said Romney would propose to strengthen defense spending if elected.
Ryan, who voted against the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts, said he believed in a "robust space program."
He said the space agency, which has shed thousands of jobs after the retirement of the space shuttle and the cancelation of its Constellation program, was an "invaluable asset to our national security."
"President Obama has advanced what we think are devastating and irresponsible cuts to defense programs. We want to restore that because we believe in peace through strength. We believe in scientific research. We obviously believe that a robust space program is in the vital national security interests of America," he said. "Mitt Romney has committed to restoring our national defense which we see as a national security issue including our space programs."
Ryan declined to say which role, if any, commercial space companies such as Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, would have under a Romney-Ryan administration.
Ryan also countered critics who said he and Romney did not have strong foreign policy credentials.
"I have more experience than President Obama did when he came into office," he said. "Mitt Romney and I share the same principles and values when it comes to national security and foreign policy. We believe in the doctrine of peace through strength. We believe in having a strong military. We believe in strengthening our relationships with our allies abroad. And, making sure that our adversaries know that we have resolve."
"I have been in Congress a number of years. I have voted to send men and women to war. I have been to those funerals. I have visited with our troops overseas in war zones to get their perspective. So, we have that kind of experience. And, we also know that we have to have a strong America if we're going to be peaceful here at home. And, that's something we're very committed to."
Despite the push to win broad support for Medicare reform, Ryan said the election would hinge on the economy and unemployment.
"The president has failed in this. President Obama has not offered the kind of leadership it takes to get people back to work, to prevent our deficit from getting out of control -- which is hurting our economy," he said. "The president can't run on his record. It's a bad record. And, what he's doing now, is he is running on distraction. On distortions. He's running a campaign of frustration and anger."
Ryan attended a fundraiser near St. Petersburg after his campaign appearance in The Villages.
He and Romney are not expected to return to Florida until the Republican National Convention next week.