Paul Ryan defends Medicare plan in wake of Newt Gingrich’s slam

Rep. Paul Ryan spent Monday defending his plan to radically rework Medicare after it came under fire in surprising fashion from a fellow Republican, Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich became the first GOP presidential candidate to openly rip the plan, which would convert Medicare into a private insurance program, after the proposal -- part of a House budget blueprint to tame federal spending -- drew heavy criticism from some voters, and polls showed it to be unpopular.

“The budget passed by the House last month takes credible steps to controlling healthcare costs,” Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago. “It aims to do two things: to put our budget on a path to balance, and to put our economy on a path to prosperity.”

Gingrich had called Ryan’s proposal “right-wing social engineering.” He said the effort imposed “radical change.”

And while Ryan didn’t mention the critique in his speech, earlier in the day, while on a radio show, he fired back. “With allies like that, who needs the left?” Ryan said on Laura Ingraham’s program.

Gingrich’s campaign tried to tamp down the differences between two men Monday, saying that Gingrich objected to Ryan’s proposal only because it would be mandatory for seniors to join it, not optional.

Instead, said Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler, the current government-run Medicare plan should survive and compete with the kind of private option that Ryan is suggesting.

Gingrich believes Ryan “is a great leader and a great chairman,” Tyler said.

Still, the row highlighted the pressure that House Republicans have come under since deciding to press forward and vote on the Ryan plan in April. Almost immediately, the vote was attacked at some town hall meetings, and Democratic advocacy groups argued that Ryan and the GOP were out to destroy the long-standing entitlement program.

Earlier this month, House leaders conceded that Ryan’s proposal had little legislative future but said they were standing by the plan.

While Ryan delivered his remarks in downtown Chicago, dozens of protesters marched outside, according to the Associated Press. They carried signs that read “Hands off my Medicare,” “Hands off my Social Security” and “Paul Ryan plan: Let them eat cat food.”

Ryan’s plan would provide those 54 and younger with subsidies to purchase private health insurance, rather than relying on the government as the insurer. His speech appeared to be an attempt to draw a sharper distinction between his approach and the healthcare overhaul passed last year by the Democratic-led Congress and backed by President Obama. He argued that his plan will make Medicare more efficient while the Democratic plan would lead to rationed care for seniors.

“Our budget makes no changes for those in or near retirement, and offers future generations a strengthened Medicare program they can count on, with guaranteed coverage options, less help for the wealthy and more help for the poor and the sick,” Ryan said. “Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors.”

Meanwhile, Gingrich began a campaign swing in Iowa as a full-fledged candidate for the presidential nomination, and he too turned to healthcare in remarks in Dubuque, calling for a repeal of the new healthcare law.

The former speaker of the House also released a campaign video in which he said he firmly opposed the requirement in the law that individuals purchase health insurance. That seemed to conflict with remarks he made a day earlier in the same interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which he criticized Ryan’s plan.

“I agree that all of us have a responsibility to help pay for healthcare. And I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy,” he said Sunday. “I’ve said consistently, where there’s some requirement you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.”

But Tyler said Gingrich firmly opposes the individual mandate in the healthcare law.

“He has never supported a federal mandate,” Tyler said. “A federal mandate is unconstitutional.”

in Dubuque, Gingrich received a rude welcome from one Iowan, the Des Moines Register reported.

After Gingrich finished his speech, Russell Fuhrman approached in the hotel lobby and told him,"Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”

Fuhrman said he was unhappy with Gingrich’s criticism of Ryan’s Medicare plan.