* Fiscal hawk says he would protect Medicare
* Obama: Romney-Ryan would end Medicare "as we know it"
* Health insurance for elderly key issue in Florida
By Alina Selyukh
THE VILLAGES, Florida, Aug 18 Republican vice
presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Saturday put a personal spin
on the debate over Medicare, bringing his 78-year-old mother on
stage at a speech to seniors in Florida where he vowed to
safeguard the health insurance program for the elderly.
Under attack by Democrats for his budget cost-cutting plan
that proposes a major transformation in how Medicare works, Ryan
has gone on the offensive, charging that President Barack Obama
would take billions from Medicare to pay for his 2010 health
care reform law.
With that, he has also begun to align himself with
presidential candidate Mitt Romney's approach to Medicare, one
that would spend $716 billion more than either Obama's or Ryan's
over the next 10 years.
Ryan personalized the issue at The Villages, the world's
biggest retirement community and a bastion of Republican support
in a key swing state.
"When I think of Medicare, it's not just a program, it's not
just a bunch of numbers, it's what my mom relies on, it's what
my grandma had," Ryan, 42, said.
Standing in front of a banner that read "Protect And
Strengthen Medicare," Ryan hugged his mother Betty Douglas, who
lives part-time in Florida. The short-haired, diminutive Douglas
waved to the crowd.
Romney's choice of Ryan as his running mate has put a
spotlight on the Wisconsin congressman's best-known achievement
- a budget plan that would slash Medicare's projected costs by
converting it to a program that provides limited subsidies to
But on the campaign trail, Ryan has emphasized less
contentious proposals offered by Romney.
Talk of shrinking the health program for the elderly could
lose votes in the Nov. 6 election in the hotly contested state
of Florida, home to the highest concentration of retirees in the
"Their plan would put Medicare on track to be ended as we
know it," President Barack Obama said to a crowd of about 2,300
at a campaign event on Saturday in Windham, New Hampshire.
"You'd think they'd avoid talking about Medicare given the
fact that both of them have proposed to voucherize the Medicare
system. I guess they figure the best defense is to try to go on
offense," Obama said.
Polls show Romney and Obama running neck-and-neck in
Florida, where the cliffhanger 2000 presidential election was
Republicans accuse Obama of cutting $716 billion from
Medicare to pay for the healthcare overhaul law that the
Democratic president signed in 2010.
But Ryan's plan also would cut that money from Medicare,
even as he proposes repealing the broader healthcare law. Romney
says he would keep those funds for Medicare.
Ryan talked on Saturday about his grandmother who had
Alzheimer's disease and moved in with him and his mother when he
was in high school.
"Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma when we
needed it then. And Medicare is there for my mom, when she needs
it now. And we have to keep that guarantee," he said.
"But in order to make sure that we can guarantee that
promise for my mom's generation, for those baby boomers who are
retiring every day, we must reform it for my generation."
Medicare benefits nearly 50 million elderly and disabled
Americans, but its financing will be squeezed by the growing
numbers of retirees.
Concerns about the program's future have become the top
healthcare issue in the 2012 election, surpassing worries about
Obama's controversial healthcare law, a Kaiser Family Foundation
poll found earlier this week.
Joseph Bulla, 62, a Romney supporter at The Villages, said
he liked Ryan's voucher plan for Medicare.
"It will give us a chance to choose what we want instead of
being dictated to," he said.
Later on Saturday, Ryan and his mother attended a fundraiser
at the private Club at the Treasure Island, near Tampa. The
event was expected to raise more than $1 million and was hosted
by a prominent Republican financial backer and former U.S.
Ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler.
Addressing some 200 attendees, Ryan pointed to the debt
crisis flaring in Europe as a warning sign for the United
States, putting the responsibility for the economic troubles
abroad on European politicians who, he said, for decades made
promises just to get re-elected.
"And now debt crisis hit and those empty promises have
become broken promises," he said. "We will have the same fate if
we don't turn this around."