US Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan campaigned with his mother on Saturday to combat allegations he wants to dismantle Medicare, a politically sensitive public health program for seniors.
The photo-op was the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter campaign battle in which the candidates hope to whip up support among seniors by accusing their rivals of endangering the popular, but expensive Medicare program.
“Like a lot of Americans, when I think about Medicare it’s not the program. It’s not a bunch of numbers. It’s what my mom relies on,” Ryan told supporters in the key battleground state of Florida, home to a large number of retirees.
Ryan’s 78-year-old mother, Betty Douglas, a part-time Florida resident, joined the candidate on stage at the rally in The Villages, a sprawling retirement community.
“My mom has been on Medicare for over 10 years,” Ryan said.
“She planned her retirement around this promise that the government made her,” he said, “and that’s a promise we have to keep.”
Florida is the largest of the so-called swing states expected to decide November’s election, making its huge senior population a key demographic for both candidates.
US President Barack Obama and his Democratic supporters have painted a withering picture of Ryan’s plans for social programs, as laid out in the Wisconsin US congressman’s controversial budget proposals.
Obama took aim at Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and Ryan at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, saying his own plan had extended Medicare for “nearly a decade” while his rivals were bent on undermining the program.
“Their plan would put Medicare on track to be ended as we know it. It would be a different plan, a plan which you could not count on [for] health care because it would have to be coming out of your pocket,” Obama said. “That’s the real difference between our plans on Medicare. That’s the choice in this election, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”
Ryan, 42, defended his stance on Medicare, saying his changes would only have an impact on Americans under the age of 55 and were necessary to keep the program from going bankrupt.
Ryan’s deficit-targeting plan called for deep cuts in US spending to deal with what Republicans say is an unsustainable US debt.
The plan included a proposal to introduce vouchers that seniors could use to purchase private health insurance.
Critics say the vouchers would be inadequate to cover the rising costs of health care and that younger and healthier retirees would likely opt for private insurance, leaving only those with no other options — the oldest, sickest and poorest — to use the public program, in turn driving up its costs.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in the top slot on the Republican ticket, has already sought to put some distance between his running mate’s proposals and his own.
“I have my budget plan ... And that’s the budget plan we’re going to run on,” Romney said in a recent interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes.