OXFORD, OHIO — Paul Ryan spoke about the issue of Medicare for the first time since being tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate, telling a crowd of more than 1,000 people Wednesday night at his alma mater, Ohio’s Miami University, that the conversation is one that Republicans welcome.
“The president, I’m told, is talking about Medicare today,” said Ryan, who graduated from the school in 1992 with a B.A. in economics and political science. “We want this debate. We need this debate. And we will win this debate.”
As Republicans have done in recent days, Ryan took aim at Obama for $716 billion in Medicare Advantage savings and cuts to providers over the next decade brought about through the national health care law, arguing that the White House “raided it to pay for Obamacare.”
Romney has said he would restore the $716 billion, and Ryan supports that plan.
But Ryan offered no details about his own proposal to overhaul Medicare, a part of his budget blueprint that has become a flash point in the presidential campaign. Ryan said only that he and Romney “will protect and strengthen Medicare for our current seniors and for our future seniors of tomorrow.”
“The president’s campaign says this raid of Medicare to pay for Obamacare, which leads to fewer services for current seniors, is an achievement,” Ryan said. “Do you think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement?”
“No!” yelled the crowd at the Miami University Engineering Quad, which was a mix of students and older supporters.
“Well, neither do I. ... It’s not right. He knows it. He can’t defend it,” Ryan said.
Also unmentioned by Ryan was the fact that his own budget blueprint would implement the vast majority of the Medicare savings that are achieved under the national health care law.
President Obama weighed in on the Medicare issue Wednesday as well. Speaking to an outdoor crowd in Dubuque, Iowa, Obama accused Romney and Ryan of being “dishonest” about Medicare.
“I have strengthened Medicare,” he said. “I have made reforms that have saved millions of seniors with Medicare hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs. I have proposed reforms that will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the health care system — reforms that will not touch your Medicare benefits, not by a dime.”
Obama added that Romney and Ryan have a “very different plan,” one that will “turn Medicare into a voucher program” in which seniors would “no longer have the guarantee of Medicare.”
Making an unexpected appearance at the event to introduce Ryan was Rob Portman, Ohio’s junior senator and one of the Republicans Ryan beat out for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.
Dr. Rich Hart, Ryan’s former economics professor, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), under whom Ryan once worked on the House Budget Committee, also offered introductions of Ryan.
“Folks, the RedHawks are soaring tonight,” Portman said in a reference to the school’s sports teams. “One of your own is on the national stage, and he’s making a difference.”
Portman, who introduced Ryan after Kasich and Hart, joked that he would be “really afraid” if one of his own professors came onstage and talked about him at an event.
“I was not the stellar student that apparently Paul was all the time,” he said. He added: “Ultimately, what he’s about is growing the economy so every American has opportunity.”
Ryan, who shook Portman’s hand and gave him a hearty few pats on the back when he took the stage, told the crowd that the senator had given him his lucky Ohio buckeye, which he’d carried with him throughout his 2010 Senate race.
“He carried it with him for his entire Senate race. Rob is a very close friend. We’ve been through a lot together,” Ryan said.
The moment was made somewhat more awkward, however, by Kasich’s introduction of Portman.
“It was sorta funny because as you know, he was seriously considered for this job,” he told the crowd, as the senator stood next to him on the stage.
Kasich said that he had recently spoken with Portman’s wife, who told him that the couple’s daughter is vice-president of her class and that “this family can only stand one vice-president at a time.”
He also called Ryan — who hails from Janesville, Wis. — “the hometown hero,” even though Portman was born in nearby Cincinnati.
Ryan’s former professor, Hart, described Ryan as “a man of ideas, a man of vision.”
“How do I describe him? How many times have I been asked that in the last three days? So let me repeat: Bright. Articulate. Intellectually curious. Inquisitive,” he said of Ryan, who he first met in his junior macroeconomics class.
In his remarks, Ryan spoke only briefly of Medicare. The bulk of his speech was focused on the struggling economy under Obama, particularly the economic situation facing young college graduates.
“This economy’s really bad for young Americans,” Ryan said. “Half of all college graduates are either working in jobs that they didn’t train for or are not working at all. Half! And they’re wallowing in debt, with ever-higher rising tuition.”
“President Obama is out of ideas, and that is why his campaign is based on anger and division,” he added.
In his first speech at his alma mater since giving commencement remarks three years ago, Ryan told the crowd that “this town, this school, it means a lot to us.”
“I spent a lot of my formative years here. I like my Skyline 5-way, turkey gobblers, cheese fries at Skipper’s. ... Oh, I also went to school here, too,” he joked.
He told the crowd that he and Romney “will earn your support.”
“We will deserve victory. Because when we win, then we will have the obligation, the mandate and the moral authority to get this country back on the right track,” he said.
Ryan’s economic message, however, was contradicted somewhat by Kasich, who touted Ohio’s economic growth under his leadership.
“We’ve gone from 48th in job creation and the loss of 400,000 jobs to No. 1 in job creation in the Midwest, No. 4 in America, and a growth of 111,300 jobs,” he said. “So, you young Miami graduates, you’re not going anywhere. You stay right here in Ohio and go into IT and medicine and logistics and the energy industry. It’s all right here for you.”