Obama, Ryan Talk Medicare At AARP Convention

President Barack Obama and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan addressed the annual AARP convention in New Orleans on Friday.

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In New Orleans today, thousands of senior citizens were treated to two different visions for their future. President Obama and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan each addressed the AARP.

As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, they took questions on topics ranging from Medicare to Social Security, and back to Medicare.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: There's a simple reason why both men wanted to talk to this crowd: more than half of the electorate is 50 years old or more, and older voters are more likely to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, AARP.

(APPLAUSE)

JAFFE: The president joined the crowd via satellite from northern Virginia, where he would later hold a rally. It didn't take him long to take a shot at Mitt Romney's criticism of the 47 percent who pay no income taxes. Many of those are seniors on Social Security and Mr. Obama let the AARP members know he saw them differently.

OBAMA: Medicare and Social Security are not handouts. You've paid into these programs your whole lives.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: You've earned them. And as president, it's my job to make sure that Medicare and Social Security remain strong for today's seniors and for future generations.

JAFFE: The AARP is nonpartisan, but the organization does support the president's Affordable Care Act, often called ObamaCare. And the audience cheered and stood and applauded frequently even though Mr. Obama couldn't see or hear them.

The president warned them that contrary to what they'd hear in a little while from Congressman Ryan, the Affordable Care Act has strengthened Medicare. And the president said they shouldn't believe Ryan when he says that ObamaCare robs $716 billion from Medicare.

OBAMA: That is simply not true. What we did was...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ...we went after waste and fraud and overcharging by insurance companies, for example.

JAFFE: Paul Ryan had to take the stage after President Obama had told everyone what a disaster Ryan's plans for Medicare would be. But it's really the other way around, said Ryan.

(APPLAUSE)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal ObamaCare...

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

RYAN: ...because it represents the worst of both worlds.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

RYAN: I had a feeling there would be mixed reactions, so let me get into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

JAFFE: In this closely divided crowd, Ryan was heckled and booed as much as he was applauded. He argued that ObamaCare would use Medicare as a, quote, "piggy bank," cutting $716 billion from the program. He didn't mention that his own plan would also rely on the same $716 billion in reduced costs. One thing that his plan would not do, he said, is put crucial decisions about Medicare in the hands of an advisory panel, as he argued ObamaCare would.

RYAN: We propose putting 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their own health care decisions.

(APPLAUSE)

JAFFE: He denied that amounted to a voucher program, as the president has charged.

RYAN: That's a poll-tested word basically designed to scare today's seniors.

JAFFE: Ryan also spoke briefly of his plans to save Social Security by, among other things, gradually raising the retirement age. He said that his and Mitt Romney's plans for Medicare and Social Security include bipartisan proposals that have been around for years, and that their administration would reach across the aisle.

President Obama also said he wanted to work with Republicans to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. And he, once again, gave credit to Mitt Romney for pioneering the Massachusetts health care law that inspired the president's own.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, New Orleans.

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