WOODBRIDGE, Va. — President Barack Obama traded charges with Rep. Paul D. Ryan on Friday over the financing of Medicare, as each candidate sought to appeal to older voters by warning them that his opponent would threaten the future of the signature federal health care program.
In back-to-back appearances at the AARP convention in New Orleans, Obama and Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, both insisted that their policies would safeguard Medicare.
Ryan faced a far less friendly audience, drawing widespread boos and cries of "No!" when he called for the repeal of Obama's health care law.
"The first step toward a stronger Medicare is to repeal 'Obamacare' because it represents the worst of both worlds," Ryan said, his last words drowned out by catcalls. He added, "I had a feeling there would be mixed reactions."
Obama, who addressed the convention via satellite before holding a rally in Virginia, received a much warmer response for his argument that his health law would strengthen Medicare over the long run by controlling costs.
Republican proposals, Obama said, would turn Medicare into a voucher program that would raise the cost of care for many older people. Insurance companies, he said, would cherry-pick the healthiest patients, leaving the oldest and sickest people in traditional Medicare.
"No American should ever spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies," Obama said to applause. "They should retire with the care and the dignity they have earned."
The president dropped an earlier criticism — that vouchers would raise health care costs for older people in Medicare by more than $6,000 a year — acknowledging that Ryan had modified his original proposal so that current beneficiaries of Medicare would not be affected by the voucher system.
But Obama offered a new argument: that Mitt Romney's $5 trillion in proposed tax cuts would require taxing Social Security benefits. Citing unidentified independent experts, the president said a Romney administration would tax Social Security benefits for older people who make less than $32,000 a year.
Ryan, for his part, reiterated his charge that Obama's health care overhaul would "funnel $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for."
The Republican plan for vouchers, he said, "empowers future seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them from a list of plans that are required to offer at least the same level of care as traditional Medicare."