* Democrats take aim at Ryan plan to cut Medicare costs

* Seniors in swing state Florida could be at stake

* Romney adviser sees "campaign of fear and smear"

By Tom Brown

MIAMI, Aug 12 (Reuters) - In Florida last month, President Barack Obama worked up the crowd as he assailed a Republican plan to slash the federal budget deficit while also cutting taxes for millionaires by "squeezing more money out of our seniors."

He was referring to a plan proposed by congressman Paul Ryan to get elderly Americans to pay more out of pocket for their healthcare by changing the government-run Medicare program for seniors.

"It's wrong to ask you to pay for Medicare so that people who are doing well right now get even more," Obama told a gathering of retirees in West Palm Beach on July 19. "That's no way to reduce the deficit. We shouldn't be squeezing more money out of our seniors."

It's a line of attack the Obama campaign likely will be pressing even harder now that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has chosen Ryan as his running mate.

The Ryan plan could pose particular problems for Romney in Florida, the largest of the swing states in the Nov. 6 election and a haven for retirees.

Republicans have largely rejoiced at Romney's pick, since Ryan is an ambitious and engaging budget hawk who has vowed to enact fundamental changes to social programs put in place by the Democrats since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But Democrats are "ecstatic" too, according to Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "They see that they have a winning hand on a key issue," she said.

That's because Ryan is one of the few politicians willing to touch the proverbial "third rail" of American politics by proposing big changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor, while also pushing for some privatization of the Social Security retirement system.

Medicare especially has long been seen as a healthcare issue that changes votes, and that may be especially true in Florida where seniors make up nearly 30 percent of the electorate and vote in large numbers.

As Obama told the gathering in West Palm Beach, Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program means that seniors would have to pay nearly $6,400 a year more for Medicare than they do now. That is a hefty sum for anyone living on a fixed income.

Ryan's plan calls for an end to the guaranteed benefit in Medicare and replaces it with a system that would give vouchers to recipients to pay for health insurance. The risk in such a plan is that if healthcare costs rise faster than the value of the vouchers, seniors would have to pay the difference.

"I think the Republicans are in the process of destroying themselves," said Denis Springer, 75, a retiree and a Democrat from Winter Park, Florida, when asked about Ryan on Saturday.

"I think anybody that fiddles around with Medicare and/or Social Security is going to impact the vote," added Bill Young, 68, a stockbroker from Naples, Florida.

Young, a Republican, said he still planned to vote for Romney but said he thought any plan to cut Medicare also hurt the former Massachusetts governor's chances of winning the election.


'SCARY ASPECT'

"If the Republicans lose they're probably going to point to this decision," MacManus said on Sunday of Romney's pick of Ryan.

"I think the biggest challenge for the Republican ticket is going to have to be to convince seniors, the 65 and over, that they're not going to get caught up in any of these reforms of Medicare because that is a scary aspect for all of them," she said.

More than half of registered Florida voters are at least 50 years old, and MacManus said people close to retirement age were also clearly preoccupied by talk of changes to Medicare and Social Security.

A tracking poll from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation last month showed that 45 percent of Americans trust Obama to do a better job handling Medicare than Romney, who was favored by 34 percent.

Another Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that 59 percent of respondents support no reductions to spending on Medicare, as part of an effort toward deficit reduction. That compared with 40 percent who would support some cuts.

Any cuts to Medicare are unlikely to have a direct impact on current beneficiaries of the program, since the changes would only affect people under age 55. And Ryan has reportedly watered down the voucher program, making it optional and allowing people to keep traditional Medicare if they preferred.

But alarming talk about cuts to social programs looks almost certain now to be part of what Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie, in comments to CNN on Sunday, described as "the campaign of fear and smear in 2012."

"The other side has accused Governor Romney of being a felon. They have accused him of being responsible for the tragic death of a woman. They're going to do all kinds of things to try to scare voters. We believe that voters will look at the facts," Gillespie said.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Marco Rubio

    "Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has made great decisions, and choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate is a truly inspired choice. I got to know Paul during my Senate campaign when he endorsed me early on when I was still considered a long shot. Paul Ryan is a courageous reformer who understands our nation's challenges, has proposed bold policy solutions to solve them, and has shown the courage to stand up to President Obama and other Washington politicians trying to tear him down. "The Romney-Ryan ticket is going to win in November because it offers the American people visionary leadership to recapture the free enterprise spirit that has empowered countless Americans to build businesses from scratch and live the American dream. I'm excited about the visionary change a Romney-Ryan team will bring to Washington, and I look forward to campaigning

  • Rob Portman

    <blockquote> "Mitt Romney has made a great choice in Paul Ryan. He is an accomplished public servant and a leading voice on the most pressing issues facing our country. Paul is one of my best friends in Congress and someone I have worked closely with as a former colleague on the House Ways & Means Committee. "Jane and I wish Paul and Janna and their kids the very best. As the Chairman of the Romney campaign in Ohio, I look forward to working with Paul to ensure that the Romney-Ryan ticket carries Ohio and is victorious in November. Most importantly, as a member of the Senate, I look forward to working closely with a Romney-Ryan Administration to restore fiscal sanity and enact pro-growth policies to create jobs."</blockquote>

  • Obama for American Campaign Manager Jim Messina

    <blockquote>"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."</blockquote>

  • Michelle Malkin

  • Michael Moore

  • Brad Woodhouse

  • Rachel Maddow MSNBC

  • mike murphy

  • Michael Steele

  • Larry Sabato

  • davidfrum

  • Charles M. Blow

  • Robert Reich

  • Nilay Patel

  • Mark Harris

  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee

    The Progressive Change Campaign Committee issued the following statement: <blockquote>"Paul Ryan is a right-wing extremist who wants to end Medicare. This is a major unforced error by Mitt Romney. It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits. If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer." -- Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 1 million member grassroots organization</blockquote>

  • Laura Ingraham

  • John Kasich

  • Ari Fleischer

  • Susan B. Anthony List

    The national pro-life organization released the following statement: <blockquote>"By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List. "A longtime pro-life advocate and a strong fiscal conservative, Congressman Ryan has insisted that there can be no 'truce' when it comes to advancing the rights of the unborn and achieving fiscal responsibility. He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney's campaign. "Pro-life voters are a key demographic and help secure victory in critical elections," continued Dannenfelser. "The addition of a second strong pro-life leader to the ticket energizes the pro-life base - we are thrilled with this pick."</blockquote>

  • GOProud

    <blockquote>"The selection of Paul Ryan is a bold and inspired pick," said Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud. "Paul Ryan has been the architect of policies that would benefit all Americans, especially gay Americans." "Paul Ryan is one of the few political leaders anywhere in the country willing to tell the American people the truth about the unprecedented budget crisis we are facing, and - more importantly - willing to put forward bold plans to put this country back on the road to fiscal solvency," continued LaSalvia.</blockquote>

  • Log Cabin Republicans

    <blockquote>"Congressman Paul Ryan is a strong choice for vice president, and his addition to the GOP ticket will help Republican candidates up and down the ballot," said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director. "As chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the Republican "path to prosperity" that provided the blueprint for serious spending cuts in this Congress, nobody is more qualified to articulate a conservative economic vision to restore the American economy and stimulate job creation. </blockquote>

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

  • Jason Chaffetz

  • Center For American Progress President Neera Tanden

    <blockquote>"Just like Sen. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin and George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle, Mitt Romney has been cowed by the right wing into choosing an extreme vice presidential nominee who will alienate moderate voters. It's now clearer than ever that as president, Mitt Romney would end Medicare as we know it, and will raise taxes on middle class families by more than $2,000in order to slash taxes on the wealthiest Americans. While there is a lot that can be said about Paul Ryan's extreme views, more important is what this choice says about Mitt Romney: that he is unwilling or unable to stand up to the far-right of his party and select a vice-presidential candidate that is both able to be president on day one and capable of governing by reaching across the aisle."</blockquote>

  • SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

    <blockquote>"If there were ever any doubt that Mitt Romney is not on the side of working people, today's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate makes it crystal clear. With this choice, Romney has shown the American people that he believes Rep. Ryan's extremist, irresponsible and anti-worker agenda is what's right for our country. "Rep. Ryan has made a name for himself by fighting in the halls of Congress for tax giveaways for the wealthy and big corporations while proposing to gut vital services like Medicare and education, and eliminating any sense of retirement security for working families. His no-holds barred record of attacking seniors, children, and working men and women is frightening for the 99 percent of Americans who are not rich -- but for Mitt Romney it was a calling card to choose him as a running mate."

  • NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan

    <blockquote>"Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Ryan as his running mate reminds us of why elections matter when it comes to our ability to make personal and private medical decisions," Keenan continued. "The outcome of the 2012 presidential election very well could determine whether abortion remains legal and accessible for the next generation of American women. Romney has pledged that taking away women's rights will be a priority for him and his choice of Ryan amplifies that promise to the extreme anti-choice backers of this ticket. My organization's priority is to make sure President Obama remains in the White House."</blockquote>

  • Kelly Ayotte

  • Herman Cain

  • Rick Perry

  • Tommy Thompson

  • Pete Hoekstra

  • Steve King

  • Eric Cantor

  • Dana Rohrabacher

  • Kenny Marchant

  • Gregg Harper

  • Rick Santorum

  • Rep. Kathy Hochul

    <blockquote>"Americans deserve new ideas for how we can reduce the debt and protect our seniors and the middle class. Just one year ago, Western New York voters rejected the Ryan-Collins policies that would end Medicare as we know it and hurt middle class families while giving more tax cuts to the rich. Our country needs to move forward, not re-hash failed ideas. Given Chris Collins' ongoing support for tax cuts for the rich that add nearly $1 trillion to the deficit and his willingness to send his business to China to line his pockets, it is clear my opponent is going to continue to pursue policies and priorities that have already been rejected."</blockquote>

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski

  • Claire McCaskill

  • Jim DeMint

  • Chris Van Hollen

  • Rep. Mary Bono Mack

  • Sam Brownback

  • John Shimkus

  • Rep. Trent Franks

  • Frank Pallone

  • Michele Bachmann

  • Rob Zerban

    <blockquote>"Now that Paul Ryan's personal ambition has clearly trumped his interest in the First District, I have no doubt he'll find himself out of a job come November. Once Wisconsinites and voters across our country learn the truth about Ryan's radical plot to end Medicare as we know it, de-fund women's health care, and preserve tax breaks for millionaires, they'll vote against him not just once, but twice. In the coming weeks, our campaign will work with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to continue getting the word out on Ryan's indefensible record, and building momentum to ensure victory on Election Day."</blockquote>

  • Scott Walker

    <blockquote>"Governor Mitt Romney made a bold and reform-minded selection in Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. This election has to be about who is going to look out for the next generation. America needs a comeback team to turn around the economy and to turn around the fiscal status of our country. Romney and Ryan have the ideas and the experience needed to take on these core issues. This is a great day for Wisconsin and an even greater day for America."</blockquote>