08/29/2012 10:38 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

At GOP Convention, Seniors Are Wary Of Changing Medicare

TAMPA, Fla. -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks about the need to face budgetary hard truths, and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan is supposed to be the new prince of truth-telling about spending. But the older delegates I talked with on the floor of the Republican convention Wednesday night are wary of changing Medicare and don't know much, if anything, about their vice presidential candidate's plan to turn it into a market-based voucher program.

And even though Christie told the Republican convention that seniors aren't selfish, I didn't find a single delegate currently on Medicare who is willing to accept any changes to the program or in the taxes to pay for it.

They also said that government leaders should look elsewhere first to cut the budget -- especially defense spending.

"The first thing we need to do is get the global spending under control before we even start talking about other things," said Dennis Marburger, a Michigan supporter of Rep. Ron Paul.

Marie Quinn and Fay Williamson, friends and fellow delegates from the Richmond area of Virginia, said in unison that Medicare should be preserved as is for anyone 55 and over. Neither knew anything about the Ryan budget plan in general or his Medicare proposals (either version).

Shirley Jones of Ohio said that Congress and the president "need to be very careful" on Medicare. "No one really knows what all the numbers really are or will be or what the lineup in Washington will be like. I'm not going to say anything or take a position until I know more," said Jones.

Other delegates and party strategists remain nervous about the hard-truth-on-Medicare theme -- and about selecting a running mate for Mitt Romney who is so identified with that theme and topic.

"I didn't think Mitt would pick him," said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who employed Ryan as a budget aide early in Ryan's career. "I didn't think they'd do it because of his identification with the Medicare issue. When you pick him, you get that."

Brownback added, "People in my state are ready to deal with this. I'm not sure about elsewhere."

A delegate from the San Francisco Bay Area observed, "I just don't know if you can explain the issue to people in 60 days. Picking Ryan was good strategy. It was a bold pick. I'm not sure if it was good tactics, though. I would have gone with [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio."

The former manager of a 2012 Romney rival's campaign said he was concerned about both the lack of knowledge on the floor and the lack of time to convert senior voters. "The Democrats have done a good job over the years," said the manager, who declined to be quoted because he is working for Romney now.

He added, "The seniors here, like seniors everywhere, don't want anyone to touch Medicare -- ever."



Republican National Convention 2012