updated 5/22/2011 1:53:35 PM ET 2011-05-22T17:53:35

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Sunday he would have voted for the House Republican budget plan, which includes a Medicare proposal that he criticized last week and then backed off after fellow conservatives denounced his stand.

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The former House speaker also said he expects the Medicare plan to be modified.

Gingrich spent much of the first week of his presidential campaign explaining his comments and then apologizing for calling Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal "right-wing social engineering" during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Ryan's plan essentially would replace the federal health care program with a voucher system for buying insurance.

Video: Gingrich: Ryan’s Medicare proposal is ‘too big a jump’ (on this page)

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, appeared on NBC himself Sunday and called Gingrich's description of his proposal "deeply inaccurate" and a "gross mischaracterization." Still, he played down the flap.

"We've got to get beyond this," said Ryan, R-Wis. "And we've got to get onto a serious conversation about what it takes to fix the fiscal problems in this country. And if we don't tackle these problems now while we have time, they're going to tackle us."

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The Republican-controlled House passed the Ryan budget largely along party lines, but the Democratic Senate has yet to take it up. Ryan said he was "absolutely" willing to negotiate the Medicare proposal within the budget plan, an acknowledgment of reality given that Democrats control the Senate and President Barack Obama would veto a Medicare plan he found unacceptable.

Gingrich, interviewed the same morning on CBS' "Face the Nation," repeated that he had erred in his statements on NBC and noted that he had apologized to Ryan for them. He said he had meant to speak to a general principle that Washington shouldn't impose large-scale change on people and hailed Ryan for beginning a process for explaining what Republicans favor in tackling long-term deficits.

"The American people have to have time to ask us questions, to modify the plan if necessary, to get to a point where people are comfortable with it," Gingrich said. "I probably used unfortunate language about social engineering. But my point was really a larger one that neither party should impose on the American people something that they are deeply opposed to."

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Ryan's Medicare plan would not affect people over 55 and would not take effect for 10 years. Gingrich said he would modify the plan to start much earlier and to allow people a choice.

Gingrich also acknowledged that he no longer supports a mandate to require people to buy insurance. The challenge, he said, is determining how to maximize individual freedom yet make sure that people have some responsibility for their debts.

"I do not believe in mandates. In fact, I think that in many ways they're unconstitutional both on religious liberty grounds and on personal liberty grounds," Gingrich said. "There are a lot of people who refuse to pay for their health care, including people with money. And so we're trying to find a way to match both."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Explainer: The Gingrich-Ryan debacle

  1. Transcript of: Explainer: The Gingrich-Ryan debacle

    MR. GREGORY: OK. Stay where you are , Chairman, please. The other big political story this week, of course, had to do with Newt Gingrich . He's in Iowa this weekend. He says his presidential campaign is alive and well despite a very tough week that began with his criticism of my guest, Paul Ryan , whose plan to reform Medicare is now the hot topic in Washington and on the campaign trail. We're going to continue our interview with Chairman Ryan in just a moment, but first some of the background. Just days after announcing his White House run, Gingrich made his 35th appearance on this program and shocked many by upending a centerpiece of the conservative 2012 playbook by calling Ryan 's Medicare plan "right wing social engineering ."

    REP. GINGRICH: So there are things you can do to improve Medicare ...

    MR. GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare .

    REP. GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump.

    MR. GREGORY: Gingrich made headlines, but not the ones he wanted.

    REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): To somehow portray that as a radical step, I think, is a tremendous misspeak.

    MR. RUSH LIMBAUGH: Cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees, it supports the Obama administration.

    MR. GREGORY: He was even confronted by a voter during his first swing through Iowa .

    Unidentified Man: What you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable.

    REP. GINGRICH: I didn't do anything to Paul Ryan .

    Man: Yes, you did.

    MR. GREGORY: By Tuesday, Gingrich began backtracking.

    REP. GINGRICH: I made a mistake, and I called Paul Ryan today, who's a very close, personal friend, and I said that.

    MR. GREGORY: But other conservatives had already moved in.

    FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK): And it sounded pretty clear to me that Newt Gingrich 's position, because he articulated this, was that Paul Ryan 's plan would be social engineering , and he didn't like it.

    MR. GREGORY: By Thursday, Gingrich moved on to denial.

    REP. GINGRICH: It was not a reference to Paul Ryan . There was no reference to Paul Ryan in that answer.

    MR. LIMBAUGH: Well, then what did you apologize to him about?

    MR. GREGORY: Missteps that gave political commentators and comedians alike material all week long.

    REP. GINGRICH: So let me say on the record, any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, and -- because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.

    MR. JON STEWART: You know, I, I've always found the hallmark of an honest conversation is one that begins with, "If you quote me directly, utilizing videotape of my comments in context, you're lying."

    MR. GREGORY: The bigger issue beyond Gingrich 's campaign is the sensitivity he exposed among Republicans to Ryan 's budget plan, including Medicare . Just how far will and should the GOP go to tackle the debt in this election season? And I 'm back with Chairman Paul Ryan . How did you respond to all of this?

    REP. RYAN: Well, first of all, his quote was deeply inaccurate. It was a gross mischaracterization of the House Republican budget plan. Newt 's acknowledged that, he's retracted it. And let's be clear what we're proposing here. This is as sensible and gradual as it gets. We're saying no changes for Medicare for people above the age of 55. And in order to keep the promise to current seniors who've already retired and organized their lives around this program, you have to reform it for the next generation. And the way in which we propose reforming for the next generation, it's in keeping with the Bill Clinton bipartisan commission

    that -- to reform Medicare, it's an idea that's been around for a long time called premium support: guaranteed coverage options for Medicare where the government subsidizes the poor and the sick a whole lot more than the wealthy, and people get to choose. If I could put it in a nutshell, we're saying don't affect current seniors, give future seniors the ability to deny business to inefficient providers. As a contrary to that, the president's plan is to give the government the power to deny care to seniors by empowering a panel of 15 unelected bureaucrats...

    MR. GREGORY: What...

    REP. RYAN: put price controls and rationing in place for current seniors. So I would argue that the opposite is true. We're being sensible, we're being rational, and we're saving this program. And you cannot deal with this debt crisis, David , unless you're serious about entitlement reform. And, unfortunately, I think we're going to have "mediscare" all over again, and that's unfortunate for the country.

    MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, we're going to, we're going to get to that, Congressman. Was this demagoguery on the part of Newt Gingrich ? That's what you warned happens on both sides when you were here in April on the approach to big problems.

    REP. RYAN: Yes.

    MR. GREGORY: This was demagoguery on the part of Newt Gingrich .

    REP. RYAN: No, I think that, that quote is deeply inaccurate. It's a gross mischaracterization. And again, Newt has already said that it was wrong, he was wrong to say it, and he's, he's basically retracted the statement. And he has apologized to me personally for that.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, but, but, here's the issue.

    REP. RYAN: It's not about me personally, this is about the House Republican budget.

    MR. GREGORY: Right. Right, it -- I don't think anybody thinks it's about you personally. The


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