LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. The race for the White House is nearly in full swing. The presumptive Republican ticket is now set. Both parties are gearing up for their respective conventions, which are coming right up. Both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are waging a tough battle over the future of Medicare. In Florida yesterday, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, enlisted an important ally.
PAUL RYAN: I want to introduce you to my mom.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
WERTHEIMER: Ryan's mom, Betty, appeared alongside the Wisconsin lawmaker at The Villages, a largely conservative retirement community in central Florida. The vice presidential hopeful defended his plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system for future retirees. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, welcome.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
WERTHEIMER: Medicare is not always friendly turf for Republicans but they really do seem to be itching to have this fight.
HORSLEY: They really do. Paul Ryan came out swinging in Florida. He's arguing that President Obama has diverted money from Medicare to help pay for the new health care law. There is some truth to that, although the White House insists the cuts to Medicare wouldn't affect basic benefits. Ryan also attacked another provision of the health care law that sets up an expert panel with the power to make changes in Medicare if costs continue to rise too quickly.
RYAN: Do you think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement?
RYAN: Do you think empowering a board of bureaucrats to cut Medicare an achievement?
RYAN: Neither do I. Medicare should not be used as a piggybank for Obamacare. Medicare should be the promise that is made to our current seniors, period, end of story.
HORSLEY: This is an echo of the old death panel argument we heard during the health care debate, although that expert panel's actually prohibited from rationing health care.
WERTHEIMER: So, how was Paul Ryan received? They sounded excited.
HORSLEY: Well, you can hear, there's a lot of enthusiasm. The Villages, as you said, is a pretty Republican area in Florida - and it never hurts to bring your mom along. There were some Democrats in the crowd, and there was also a plane flying overhead with banner though that said, Paul Ryan: keep your hands off our Medicare. Remember, it's congressman Ryan who's proposed sweeping changes to the program for future retirees.
WERTHEIMER: Democrats are hoping to use that Ryan plan as a weapon against the republican ticket, right?
HORSLEY: That's right. The president himself was campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday, and he expressed some surprise that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are talking about Medicare as much as they are.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You'd think they would avoid talking about Medicare, given the fact that both of them have proposed to voucherize the Medicare system.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)
OBAMA: But I guess they figure the best defense is to try to go on offense.
HORSLEY: And in fact, that's exactly what we're seeing here. According to the Wall Street Journal, House Speaker John Boehner delivered just that message about offense and defense in a conference call this past week with his fellow House Republicans. The GOP knows the Ryan Medicare plan is controversial. So, they've come out punching against the president's own plan.
WERTHEIMER: Could you remind us what's in that Romney-Ryan plan?
HORSLEY: Well, again, no change for people who are 55 or older. After that, future retirees would get a voucher from the government that they could use to help buy private insurance. Now, the idea here is the competition among insurance companies would help keep costs in check. If it doesn't and if the cost of insurance rose faster than the value of the government voucher, any additional cost would land on the backs of seniors. Democrats are also pointing out that if Romney repeals Obamacare, as he's promised to do, seniors would lose the extra help they're getting with prescription drugs and the free preventive care that's included as part of the health care law.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you.
HORSLEY: It's good to be with you, Linda.
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