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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Paul Ryan to Fla: "Say hi to my mom, Betty"



Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan used his first Florida campaign visit Saturday to make his most extensive remarks about entitlement reform since joining Mitt Romney’s ticket.

He also got personal with the crowd at The Villages, introducing his 78-year old mother, a winter Florida resident. 

“Say hi to my mom, Betty,” Ryan told thousands of cheering seniors. He then recalled how his grandmother with advanced Alzheimer’s disease lived with his family when he was a teenager in Wisconsin.

“Like a lot of Americans, when I think of Medicare, it’s not just a program, it’s not just a bunch of numbers,” Ryan said, standing before a “Protect & Strengthen MEDICARE” sign. “Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma when who needed it then, and Medicare is there for my mom when she needs it now. We have to keep that guarantee.”

The House budget chief has promised to dramatically restructure Medicare so that future beneficiaries would receive a fixed amount of money from the government to buy health coverage.

Ryan attacked President Barack Obama for cutting the growth of Medicare by $716 billion to expand health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, although Ryan himself effectively supported the same cuts in his budget plan, but used to money to pay for other costs such as tax cuts.

“So you think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement?” he asked, drawing a chorus of “No!” from the audience. “Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank for Obamacare.”

Especially in senior-rich Florida, Ryan’s advocacy for entitlement reform could be risky. However, the Romney campaign believes Americans are ready for a serious debate about debt, the deficit and the long-term viability of entitlement programs. The Medicare trust fund for inpatient care is projected to run out of money by 2024. (It would run out in 2016 if the Affordable Care Act cuts criticized by Ryan and Romney were restored.)

“We want this debate, we need this debate, and we’re going to win this debate,” Ryan said. “President Obama and other politicians like him in Washington have become more focused on their next election than they have on the next generation. Not us. We’re not going to do that. We will lead.”

A plane flew overhead with a sign:  “Paul Ryan keep your hands off our Medicare.”

The Villages is a massive retirement community about 50 miles northwest of Orlando, and one of the biggest Republican strongholds in Florida. A fire marshal estimated 10,000 people attended the  event, though the crowd appeared smaller than that. Four years ago, newly minted vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin came to The Villages after the Republican national convention, drawing a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 60,000.

The seniors holding anti-Obamacare signs and sipping cocktails Saturday morning in the village square consistently said they applauded Ryan’s talk about entitlement reform, and noted that it did not affect anyone 55 or over.

“As long as they explain it, they’ll be fine,” said Dave Hotchkiss, a retiree from Connecticut.

People like that Ryan doesn’t mice words, he added. 

“Everyone else doesn’t face the issues. They just talk around them,” Hotchkiss said.

People know Medicare has to be fixed, his wife, Elise Hotchkiss, said. “It can’t just continue as it is.”

Ryan is scheduled to headline a fundraising reception late Saturday afternoon on Treasure Island in Pinellas County.

[Last modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 12:37pm]


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