Rep. Paul Ryan, chosen this weekend to be Mitt Romney's running mate, responded today to Democrats who say his proposals to balance the budget would jeopardize Medicare for younger Americans by making it a more market-based program.
Ryan and Romney are trying to mollify those concerns by pointing to budget reforms enacted in the 1990s by President Clinton and a Republican Congress.
During the interview that aired on "60 Minutes" Sunday, Romney was asked how he would respond to critics who say that Ryan's budget plan, which includes an overhaul of Medicare and cuts in social programs and education, will drive voters away.
"Well, what I respond -- is very simple," Romney said. "And that is America has a choice. A very clear choice. Are we going to continue to spend a trillion dollars more every year than we take in -- and pass that burden to our children?"
In a part of the interview that was published earlier in the day by CBS News, which did not air on "60 Minutes," Paul Ryan delved further in to the Medicare discussion.
"My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida," the Wisconsin Republican says in an excerpt released Sunday afternoon. "Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger. And we think these reforms are good reforms. That have bipartisan origins. They started from the Clinton commission in the late '90s."
Ryan appears in the interview with Romney, who argues that it is the president Obama's health reform law that actually hurts Medicare.
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"There's only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call 'Obamacare,'" Romney said, according to CBS.
Democrats would disagree with Romney. The health reform law seeks to control the growth of Medicare spending, but diverts those savings to pay for the rest of the health law. Romney is careful to stress that neither he nor Ryan would change Medicare for seniors currently on the program. And he argues that only by changing it can Medicare be made more fiscally sustainable.
"What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it's there for current seniors. No changes, by the way, for current seniors, or those nearing retirement," he said. "But looking for young people down the road and saying, 'We're going to give you a bigger choice.' In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices. That's how we make Medicare work down the road."
Romney said he supports aspects of Ryan's plans, but he will offer his own proposals for Medicare and not rely entirely on Ryan's.
With Ryan on the ticket, questions about Medicare and how to deal with long-term budget problems will be a focus of the campaign.
President Obama's top campaign strategist David Axelrod sought to stress that Ryan's plan would definitively change the popular Medicare program into something that relies more on a system where the government gives future seniors money to buy insurance instead of directly providing insurance as it does today.
Referring to Medicare, Axelrod called Ryan's plan "a Trojan horse that ultimately will spell its demise."