WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, was booed at the annual AARP convention after saying that, if elected, their Republican administration would repeal the nation's healthcare law as the best way to save Medicare.
Just five minutes into his talk at the gathering of the powerful 50-and-older lobby on Friday, the architect of the Republican proposal to change Medicare for the next generation of seniors was repeatedly interrupted as he criticized President Obama’s healthcare law.
"The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare, because it represents the worst of both worlds," Ryan said as the crowd in New Orleans booed audibly.
"I had a feeling there'd be mixed reaction," Ryan acknowledged, pausing briefly. "So let me get into it."
But Ryan only drew further objections from the crowd as he provided a more detailed explanation for his criticism of the healthcare law.
When he suggested that Obama was cutting $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade to pay for the costs of insuring more Americans under the healthcare law, those gathered booed. Ryan's own budget relies on using the same savings from Medicare, but he applies it to paying down the nation's deficit.
Ryan also elicited a round of objections when he suggested that the healthcare law "weakens Medicare for today's seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation." The healthcare law reduces spending on Medicare payments to providers, which officials have said would add eight years to the program's solvency, though it is still expected run out of money by 2024.
Seniors have provided a healthy constituency for Republicans, with promises of low taxes and conservative views on many social issues, but the Romney-Ryan approach to Medicare has drawn sharp divisions. Polls indicate that most Americans want to keep Medicare as is.
Under the Republican approach to Medicare, the next generation of seniors, those now 55 years old and younger, would be given a fixed stipend to buy health insurance.
Republicans say health costs would be driven down by forcing competition among insurers offering policies, but critics say there is no guarantee the voucher from the government -- or premium support -- would be worth enough for seniors who still want to opt for Medicare.
Nonpartisan analysts say seniors could pay as much as $2,000 a year out of pocket to make up the difference. The Republican proposal requires that the stipend be set at the lowest-priced insurance policy, which may not be Medicare.
"We respect you enough to level with you," Ryan told the crowd as he began the 30-minute address, and he did draw some applause as he outlined the approach a Republican administration would take.
As he often does, Ryan mentioned that his mother, Betty, a senior on Medicare from Florida, was campaigning with him Friday, and that his goal is to preserve the popular health safety net not only for this generation, but that of his three young children.
A jab at the healthcare law's new independent patient advisory board, which is being formed to devise ways to keep rising healthcare costs down, drew approval.
"To save Medicare for future generations, we propose putting 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their own healthcare decisions," Ryan said, drawing applause.
The talk by the GOP vice presidential candidate followed a video appearance by Obama.
Both candidates made their appearances amid a day of campaigning, with Ryan headed next to the senior-rich swing state of Florida.