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Obama blasts GOP on Medicare in AARP speech

September 21, 2012|By Kathleen Hennessey
  • President Obama addresses the AARP convention via satellite in New Orleans.
President Obama addresses the AARP convention via satellite in New Orleans. (Bill Haber / Associated…)

WOODBRIDGE, Va. -- President Obama blasted his GOPopponent’s plan to revamp Medicare and called the program an earned entitlement as he courted the votes of senior citizens on Friday. 

“Given the conversations that have been out there in the political arena lately, I want to emphasize Medicare and Social Security are not handouts,” Obama said in remarks delivered via satellite to the AARP conference. “You’ve paid into these programs your whole lives.  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.”

Obama’s remarks were a swipe at GOP hopeful Mitt Romney, who earlier this week took heat for describing those who don’t pay federal income taxes as dependent on the government and “victims.”

Those non-taxpayers – nearly 47% of taxpayers – include large numbers of seniors who are reliant on Social Security and eligible for tax credits that whittle their federal income tax burden to zero.

Obama and Romney are fighting over seniors, a group of reliable voters who in recent elections have favored Republicans. The president and Democrats running for Congress are hoping to make inroads with older voters by attacking Romney’s proposal to turn Medicare into voucher program.

Obama's remarks were aimed at preempting a critique from vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, Republicans’ leading advocate for partially converting Medicare to a voucher system. He was due to address the group shortly after the president.

The changes advocated by Romney and Ryan will cost seniors, Obama argued. Independent experts who have analyzed versions of Ryan’s proposals, he said, have found that over time, the voucher would not cover the cost of Medicare, leaving seniors to pick up the difference.

“I don’t consider this approach bold or particularly courageous, I just think it’s a bad idea,” Obama said Friday. “No American should ever spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies.”

Still, Obama has not put forward a plan that would reverse the deteriorating finances of the nation’s entitlement programs. Medicare is expected to start operating in the red in 2024, and the Social Security trust fund will be unable to fulfill its obligations in 2033, according to annual assessment by the trustees.

Obama noted that his healthcare law has helped put off insolvency for Medicare, in part, by cutting payments to providers and trimming waste. As he made the speech on Friday, his administration released a report claiming that because of Obama’s healthcare law, the average person with traditional Medicare will save $5,000 between 2010 to 2022.

“We do have to reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we’re going to do it by reducing the costs of care -- not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more while we’re giving millionaires and billionaires a massive new tax cut,” Obama said.

@Khennessey

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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