President Obama and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan went before 5,000 AARP members in New Orleans on Friday to make their respective cases and take questions, with each promising to do a better job of protecting Medicare, Social Security and other programs for older Americans.
See also: Obama, Ryan videos and transcripts
In the most direct faceoff the two campaigns have had this season on retirement-related issues, both Obama (appearing by satellite) and Ryan (who joined the AARP Life@50+ event in person) pledged to keep longstanding commitments to the federal programs and accused the other campaign of putting them in peril:
Obama promised his unwavering support for Medicare, which, he said, has been strengthened by his health care law. The $716 billion in Medicare spending reductions come not from cuts in benefits, he said, but from reductions in waste and insurance overcharges. Further, he noted, the law is gradually closing the "doughnut hole'' in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. He blasted the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare - which Republicans call "premium support" and Obama branded a "voucher" system - by saying, "No American should ever spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies."
Ryan (who appeared because presidential nominee Mitt Romney had a prior commitment) delivered a tough-love analysis of Medicare, maintaining that the program will go bankrupt if it is not reformed. The Wisconsin congressman said the first order of business is to repeal the health care law and restore the $716 billion reduction in Medicare spending. Ryan argued that Medicare needs to be changed for future retirees so they can get government subsidies to buy insurance on the open market, a plan Ryan said would keep costs down through competition. "If we reform Medicare for my generation," he said, "we can protect it for those in or near retirement today."
The president said he would reject any effort to privatize Social Security, which, he said, would leave Americans' retirement security subject to the whims of the market. "We have to keep the promise on Social Security by reforming it and not handing it over to Wall Street,'' Obama said. He said that raising the $106,000 cap on earnings subject to the FICA tax would be "an important aspect of putting Social Security on a more stable footing.''
Ryan argued that changes in Social Security are needed to save the program that provided Ryan's family with survivor benefits when his own father died (Ryan was 16 at the time). Ryan and Romney, he explained, want to gradually raise the retirement age and slow the increase in benefits for wealthier retirees. "Inaction today will mean sharp cuts tomorrow,'' Ryan said.
Obama, responding to a question from the audience about job discrimination against older workers, pledged to enforce existing antidiscrimination laws and fight, through legislation, recent Supreme Court decisions that make it harder for alleged victims to sue.
Ryan pledged to reform the tax code and to reduce the federal debt - both of which, he said, would spur economic growth and encourage small businesses to hire people of all ages. Repealing the health care law, Ryan said, would also ease the burden on businesses.
Obama pledged to "draw on the best from both parties'' in making policy, noting that his health care law was similar to the one that Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts. He said that Americans want a president "working hard to bring people together, but [who] is also willing to stand up to bad ideas that would end up tilting the playing field further in favor of those who have already made it instead of also thinking about folks who are trying to make it who worked hard all their lives.''
Ryan hailed Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, arguing he worked effectively with a heavily Democratic state legislature. "You can get to common ground on these problems if you treat people with respect,'' Ryan said. If elected, Ryan said, he and Romney intend to "be magnanimous and work with Democrats'' on issues affecting older Americans.
- Susan Milligan
You may also like:
- Join an online discussion about the Obama and Ryan event.
- Learn where your candidates stand: 2012 AARP Voters' Guide.
- AARP calls for presidential debates to address Social Security, Medicare
Photos: Obama, Pete Souza/White House; Ryan, Congressman Ryan