SWANTON -- Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan knows a little about Medicare, having proposed legislation to address the federal program's fiscal solvency in his position as a Wisconsin congressman.
So he was only too willing to answer several questions about the matter during a brief interview near here following a campaign speech before approximately 1,000 supporters. Ryan spoke inside a hangar near Toledo Express Airport, located just east of here.
Ryan's legislation did not move far in Congress, though he believes it remains urgent due to the country's mounting national debt that has topped $16 trillion. He describes Medicare, the federally-funded health insurance program mostly associated with persons over 65, as "going bankrupt."
"When I started doing this a number of years ago, the goal was to get ideas on the table to get people to the table to fix this problem before it unravels," said Ryan, 42, Wisconsin's U.S. 1st District Congressman and chairman of the House budget committee. "Medicare is going bankrupt, and the sooner we act to shore it up, the better off everybody is going to be. The reforms that we proposed are reforms that came from bipartisan compromises."
According to Ryan, the Obama campaign is "running all these ads basically telling falsehoods about this. Now, if we want to fix this program we've got to actually come together to fix this program. And when you see all these distortions it's disconcerting because it's attempting to basically try to scare seniors. The problem with Obamacare is it takes all this money from Medicare to spend on Obamacare which compromises Medicare. And then it puts this new board of 15 people in charge of cutting Medicare every year that they'll have to get approval from Congress. That will hurt the Medicare program for current seniors, and you don't have to do that. We've proposed to get rid of that."
By acting now, he contends, immediate cuts in benefits can be avoided.
"The kind of reforms we're talking about are bipartisan reforms that you get guaranteed coverage options you can't be denied, they're comprehensive, including traditional Medicare, and Medicare subsidizes your premiums, 100 percent support for the poor, comparable support for the middle income person like we have today and just not as much for the wealthy," said Ryan. "Doing it that way, maintaining choice and competition, is the best way to save and shrink the Medicare."
And, he says there is a bipartisan basis for finding a solution.
"The job of leaders is to work across the aisle to find common ground," he said. "What I have shown just in my job as chairman of the budget committee is we've been able to work across the aisle with Democrats to find common ground on how to save Medicare. So we've got the beginnings of a bipartisan compromise right now on Medicare with current Democrats. We need to extend that. So in the White House our plan is not to do what President Obama did -- is not to just jam through our vision, one-party rule and not listen to the other party. Our plan is to involve those reforming Democrats into a coalition to come up with a bipartisan solution to fix this problem once and for all."
That, he indicates, would prevent a rerun here of debt crises seen in European countries.
"If we had a debt crisis and interest rates take off on us, which happens in a debt crisis, then you have to do dramatic surgery to the budget in real time," he said, noting that because those countries "kicked the can down the road, they waited until it was too late," benefits are being cut, taxes raised and "their youth unemployment rate is disastrous."
"That's what will happen to us if we keep kicking the can down the road," added Ryan, "so our point is let's preempt and prevent a debt crisis -- do it on our terms. And if we go now we can make sure that nobody 55 or above has a change in their benefits. But you have to reform my generation in order to assure that -- to make sure that we can preserve the current generation's benefits. But if we wait and then we have a debt crisis then you can't do that, then everybody gets cut. That's what we are trying to prevent, and the president playing partisan politics, failing to lead, is making it more likely that that's what happens. That's why we can't afford to keep doing this."
If Ryan is right, when does the tipping point come?
"No one really knows," he said. "I've had a lot of hearings on this. I've had experts come. They think that we could have a debt crisis within two or three years if we stay on the path we are on. Well, we don't want to find out. The next presidency I think will decide this."
Earlier, Ryan made a variety of campaign points to supporters.
"We got a choice to make," he said. "This is a serious choice. This is not an ordinary election. We're not just deciding who's going to be the next president for four more years. We are deciding the meaning of America. We're deciding what kind of people we're going to be and what kind of country we're going to have for an entire generation."
Ryan conceded that when President Obama took office "he inherited a tough situation, no two ways about that." But he added that Obama didn't make things better.
"Twenty-three million Americans today are struggling to find work," he said. "Five and half million Americans who used to try to find work gave up trying. We don't even count these people anymore. That's 5.5 million Americans that had a job that gave up trying to look for a job that our government doesn't even count anymore. If we actually counted these people our unemployment rate would be 11 percent. Fifteen percent of our fellow citizens... are living in poverty today, the highest rate in a generation. The economy's barely growing. It's growing slower this year than it grew last year which grew slower than the year before that. The president has no new ideas. He doesn't know how to grow this economy. Mitt Romney knows how to grow the economy because Mitt Romney has the experience because he knows how to create jobs because he's done it before. This is a man with the knowledge, the experience and skills to create jobs."
Ryan promised that a Romney administration would champion veterans and a strong military, noting that Obama has mischaracterized Republican support for veterans.
"Let me make one thing very clear," said Ryan. "In the House budget that we drafted and that we passed, we fully met and exceeded the president's request for veterans funding by $270 million. That means we saw a commitment, a promise that our government has made to our veterans. We didn't think the president went far enough and we expanded it because we know this is a promise that must be kept. These people put their lives on the line, and in a Romney administration we will always keep our promise and our commitment to our veterans."
Ryan claimed that Americans have witnessed "the unraveling" of Obama's foreign policy.
"Four Americans were murdered in a terrorist attack in Benghazi (Libya)," he said. " The point is in a Romney administration when we know we are clearly attacked by terrorists we won't be afraid to say what it is. If terrorists attack us, we will say we had a terrorist attack, and more importantly, we will do what is necessary to prevent that from happening by having a strong military.
"This was not simply an isolated incident, but indicative of a broader failure," Ryan continued. "Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon, the Middle East is in turmoil. Nearly two dozen nations we witness on our television screens were burning our flag in protest and violence. You see if we project weakness abroad, our adversaries are that much more willing to test us, to question our resolve....We can't afford to put more daylight between ourselves and allies like Israel. We can't afford to equivocate when dissidents are taking to the streets and arguing and fighting for peace against the tyrannical dictators that are crushing them. We can't afford to call Bashar Assad a reformer, saying he has to go and then watch 20 months go by while he slaughters tens of thousands of his people. The reason we can't afford this is because if we want peace here at home in America we need to have a strong military, and we can't afford these devastating defense cuts that the president is promising. We will reverse this. If you take all of these defense cuts that are coming due that could lead to as many as 200,000 of our troops leaving the military."
U.S. Fifth District Congressman Bob Latta also spoke at Monday's event, well before Ryan took the stand.