Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan says he wants "to bring on" the Medicare debate with the Obama administration in the campaign for the White House.
"We are heading towards a European-like debt crisis which means a deeper recession, fewer jobs, lower revenues and bigger deficits if we don't get our fiscal house in order fast," Ryan said on Thursday in an interview with the Tribune-Review.
The Wisconsin congressman, tapped last weekend by Mitt Romney to join the GOP ticket, discussed the campaign after a rally and an unscheduled stop for hot dogs and hand-shaking at The Hot Dog Shoppe in nearby Warren.
"President Obama has punted on this issue. He has ducked the issue of fiscal responsibility, and that is a huge threat to our economy," Ryan said.
He criticized the president for "raiding" Medicare to pay for the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act -- also known as Obamacare. The Obama administration wants to use $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade to pay for portions of the new health care law.
"This is a debate we need to have. It is a debate that we are starting and very confident in winning," Ryan said.
Senior citizens will be upset when they realize Obama's signature legislative achievement will put their Medicare in jeopardy, he said.
Romney has vowed to overturn the legislation and restore the $716 billion to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled. The program accounts for 15 percent of all federal spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan offered a plan to trim more than $700 billion from Medicare and install a voucher program to help reduce the federal debt. He has voted to repeal Obamacare.
Ryan told the Trib that the $716 billion in cuts will lead to fewer services for seniors and creation of a government board to oversee those cuts.
"The Independent Payment Advisory Board is made up of 15 bureaucrats that are appointed by the president unelected, unaccountable, and their job is to put further price controls and cuts to Medicare providers, which will lead to even more denied services to current seniors," Ryan said.
Ryan's emergence has changed the campaign's focus to fiscal matters, experts say. That could boost the GOP ticket, "given the public's concerns with debt and deficits," or the unpopularity of Ryan's proposals could become a hurdle for the Romney campaign, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.
The Ryan budget is important because it clarifies a different governing policy from Obama's, said Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Shippensburg University.
His plan would "dramatically roll back the size and scope of the government, which varies wildly from the governing philosophy of President Obama, who sees the government as one that can do good for people," she said.
Since joining the ticket, Ryan said, he has not adjusted any of the changes he championed in the past.
"We are applying the exact same principles to solve these problems, and we have the same exact goal: Repeal Obamacare, replace it with patient-centered health care," he said.
In its monthly poll of battleground states released on Wednesday, the Washington-based Purple Strategies, a bipartisan consulting agency, said Ryan appeared to bolster the Republican ticket by 3 percentage points, pushing Romney to a thin lead over Obama (47 percent to 46 percent) in 12 states surveyed. Obama last month led by 2 percentage points in those states.
"Of the four candidates, Ryan is the best-liked, and his selection has bolstered Romney's image," said Bruce Haynes, a partner in the firm.
He said Romney's image improved after his choice of a running mate, putting his favorability ratings (45 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable) on par with Obama's.
"Ryan is giving Romney the opportunity to refresh his brand" after a summer in which voters heard about Romney's management of Bain Capital and his personal wealth and taxes, Haynes said.
Ryan said the election comes down to a referendum on Obama.
"It comes down to jobs and the economy because that is the biggest problem we have right now, and he is compounding it by his reckless fiscal behavior. He is compounding it by taking it to Washington and spending it and borrowing it with no end in sight," he said.
Ryan also took a shot at his fellow vice presidential running mate.
When he took the stage at Walsh University on Thursday in a packed Alumni Auditorium, Ryan said, "Hello, Ohio! Or as Joe Biden would say, 'Hello, Nevada.'"
The line brought down the house, magnifying the vice president's recent string of gaffes.
Ryan said he is not afraid of making a gaffe, but he believes he would have been treated much worse if he made the mistakes Biden has uttered.
Ryan wooed voters on the heels of an Ohio visit by Romney, hoping to drive home the importance of making difficult changes to Medicare and the federal budget.
"Coming to Miami was like a homecoming," said Ryan, 42, who graduated in 1992 from the liberal arts school in Oxford with degrees in economics and political science.
Because of his no-nonsense approach to the nation's debt, Casey Crooks, 32, a coal miner from Morristown, believes Ryan makes an outstanding running mate for Romney.
"He just shows that young people are serious about fixing the budgetary problems," Crooks said. "Look, I understand that change is hard; it always is. But it is irresponsible to continue on this course."
Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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