CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said Monday that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich does not fully understand a GOP proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, dismissing criticism from the former House speaker that the plan would be a radical change.
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"I just think he's missing the mark on what our plan actually does," Ryan, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, told reporters after a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago. "Our plan is one of the most gradual things one could do," because it would not affect people over age 55 and would not kick in for 10 years.
On Sunday, Gingrich had told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Ryan's plan is "too big a jump" and that he's against implementing radical changes.
"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," Gingrich said. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."Video: Gingrich: Ryan’s Medicare proposal is ‘too big a jump’ (on this page)
Gingrich stood by his criticism during a stop in Iowa on Monday, but softened his language a bit. He said he generally supports the GOP budget proposal, but differs with Ryan's approach to Medicare, saying he believes "you need a much more fundamental, much more comprehensive approach to fixing Medicare." Gingrich said it would be too jarring to recipients to change the program from a guaranteed benefit to a voucher program.Gingrich walks back support of mandates
Both Gingrich and Ryan have said that they want to repeal the federal health care bill signed by President Barack Obama last year.
Ryan, of Wisconsin, also said Monday that he will decide quickly whether he will run for the U.S. Senate to replace retiring Democrat Herb Kohl.
He said his Medicare proposal would not hurt him if he decides to seek the seat because he's talked about the issue for years and has "a long relationship with Wisconsinites."Story: Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan mulling Senate bid
But he also said his decision would be based on where he believes he would have the greatest influence on solving the nation's economic problems, and answered "yes" when asked whether his position as House Budget Committee chairman might give him more influence than as the junior senator from Wisconsin.
'The biggest threat to Medicare is the status quo'
Under Ryan's plan, the government would provide a certain amount of money to health insurers — giving more money to poorer people and less to the wealthy — with the exact coverage not locked in, rather than covering seniors' health expenses as Medicare has since the 1960s.
It's an approach he says would give seniors greater control over their own health care and ultimately save Medicare, noting that health care costs, including from Medicaid and Social Security, are growing faster than the economy.
Ryan also took issue with a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which said the typical beneficiary would be expected to pay more than two-thirds of his or her medical costs by the year 2030 under the GOP plan. He said the CBO assumes that Medicare costs always will go up instead of down under any reform plan, and said measuring any plan against the status quo "is a fantasy."
"The biggest threat to Medicare is the status quo," Ryan said.Story: The 2012 GOP presidential field
Ryan, who has been greeted with cheers and jeers at scores of town hall-style meetings on his plan, avoided protesters who gathered Monday outside Chicago's Palmer House Hilton. Dozens of demonstrators chanted "Tax the rich" and carried signs that read, "Hands off my Medicare" and "Don't make us go all Wisconsin on you," referring to the massive protests at the Wisconsin Statehouse during the legislature's fight over weakening negotiating rights for teachers.
"They are taking away basic rights that have been placed as a safety net for people," said Larry Roth, 58, of Chicago.
Doug Adams of Chicago said he came out to "defend the rights of the middle class and working class people" because "Republicans, Wall Street and big business" think older Americans are an expensive commodity.
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