Paul Ryan addressed a crowd Friday in New Orleans that was very different from the supportive groups he gives his stump speech to in battleground states around the country.
While those crowds are always cheering, this group of senior citizens at the American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP, boo'ed the vice presidential nominee throughout most of his speech, especially when he delivered his signature promise to repeal the president's health care plan, or "Obamacare," which AARP has endorsed.
The 42-year-old, who did not seem rattled by the uneasy reception in the Big Easy, acknowledged that he is younger than the attendees at AARP's national convention today, but said he has "given a good deal of thought to later seasons in life."
Much of his speech was spent blasting the president -- who spoke to the convention earlier via satellite -- for the Affordable Care Act and defending his own signature health care plan, a message similar to one he delivered early in his candidacy at the world's largest retirement community, "The Villages," in central Florida, but one with a very different reaction from the audience.
"The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare, because it represents the worst of both worlds," Ryan said to cries of "No!" from the audience. "It weakens Medicare for today's seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation. First, it funnels $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for. Second, it puts 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of Medicare's future."
Ryan included those same cuts in his signature budget plan -- the same plan Mitt Romney has said he would sign if he becomes president -- but Ryan says he was forced to build his plan on those cuts because they were already signed into law.
The $716 billion in cuts do not affect benefits for today's seniors. Instead, they reduce provider reimbursements and are intended to curb waste, fraud and abuse.
Ryan's plan has come under attack from Democrats because it would fundamentally change the plan, essentially making it a voucher program that critics say could cost senior citizens more.
President Obama addressed the group via satellite before the GOP vice presidential nominee and took a swipe at rival Mitt Romney's claim that the 47 percent of the electorate that will vote for Obama are people who are "dependent upon government" and believe "that they are victims."
"Medicare and Social Security are not handouts. You've paid into these programs your whole lives," the president said to applause. "You've earned them and as president it's my job to make sure Medicare and Social Security remain strong for today's seniors and future generations."
Obama argued that his signature legislative achievement – "Obamacare" – has extended the financial solvency of Medicare and lowered costs for millions of American seniors.
Invoking a new administration study of the law, Obama claimed the average Medicare recipient will save $5,000 over the next 10 years thanks to provisions in the Affordable Care Act. He said the measure to close the so-called prescription drug doughnut hole has saved 5.5 million seniors an average of $641 apiece this year alone.
The Obama campaign has been attacking Romney-Ryan on the airwaves in key battleground states, including a new TV ad launching today that says the Republicans' proposed "premium support" plan for Medicare – a voucher-style system -- will heap costs on seniors to the tune of $6,400 per year.
Ryan doesn't like the term "voucher" and says his plan is the only way to save Medicare from going completely bankrupt, and Romney has said his plan for Medicare is nearly "identical" to Ryan's.
It was this message that Ryan brought to the convention, pointing out that the audience probably heard the word "voucher" from the president earlier today.
"I think you might have heard the word 'voucher' earlier today, right?" Ryan asked the crowd, referring to the president's speech. "Let me explain. That's a poll-tested word basically designed to scare today's seniors. Here's what a voucher is: A voucher is you go to your mailbox, and you get a check, and you go buy something, and you're on your own. Nobody's proposing that. What we're proposing is an idea that I proposed with a Democrat in the Senate last year. What we're proposing is an idea that came out of Bill Clinton's 1999 Commission to Save Medicare."
During the question-and-answer portion, Ryan was asked how he would work for bipartisan solutions to the issues of Social Security and Medicare.
"Don't demean the opposite side, don't demagogue Democrats," Ryan answered. "Invite them into a coalition to work with us, to talk, and then solve these problems. You see, you can get to common ground on these problems if you treat people with respect, without compromising your principles, and the very existence of this plan to save and strengthen Medicare, a plan that has been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, is existence of the fact that we can get this done."
Like at the Villages, Ryan's mom, Betty Douglas, was on hand to watch him and it was when he called her his "hero" that he received the warmest applause.
"When I think about Medicare, I don't just think about charts and graphs and numbers," Ryan said. "My thoughts go back to a house on Garfield Street in Janesville. My wonderful grandma, Janet, had Alzheimer's and moved in with Mom and me.... We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it's there for my mom today. My mom is here with me today. She is a Florida senior. That time in my life, when my nana lived with my mom and me, is when we grew the closest. I'm very proud of my mom, and I'm happy she is having a great retirement. Medicare is a big part of her security."