WINDHAM, N.H. — Animated and sweating in a sweltering high-school gymnasium, President Obama used the brewing fight over the future of Medicare to attack Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul D. Ryan, the presumptive Republican ticket, as proponents of “trickle-down snake oil” that would cripple the middle class.
Obama derided Ryan’s proposal to transform Medicare into a voucher system that would pay seniors a fixed amount of money to buy medical insurance, which he said would cost them an additional $6,400 a year.
“That doesn’t strengthen Medicare. That undoes the very guarantee of Medicare,” the president said. “That’s the core of the plan written by Congressman Ryan and endorsed by Governor Romney. … Their plan is for you to pay more so they can give another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires.”
During his administration, Obama said, the only changes to Medicare benefits have been the addition of preventative services such as cancer screenings and wellness visits — “for free.”
The Medicare savings contained in his health-care act, a total of $716 billion over a decade, will be carved from waste, fraud, and insurance-company subsidies, he said.
“Their plan would put Medicare on track to be ended as we know it,” Obama said. “It would be an entirely different plan, a plan in which you could not count on health care because it would have to be coming out of your pocket.”
Obama wiped his brow several times during the half-hour speech, which he began by asking the audience to sit if possible because “we usually see a few folks kind of dropping out a little bit when it’s this warm.”
The address was interrupted repeatedly by chants of “four more years!” and sustained applause. “I’m getting all fired up,” the president said at one point, a broad smile on his face as the crowd of 2,300 people roared.
Ryan defended his stance on Medicare at a campaign stop in Saturday in Florida, where he accused the president of using the program as a “piggybank” to meet the costs of his health-reform act.
Appearing with his 78-year-old mother, Betty Ryan Douglas, Ryan told an audience of seniors that she had planned her retirement around the “promise” of Medicare.
“That’s a promise we have to keep,” Ryan said at The Villages. “It’s not just a program. It’s what my mom relies on.”
The congressman said he welcomed the fight over Medicare. “We want this debate. We need this debate. And we are going to win this debate,” he said.
Under Ryan’s plan, which would not affect anyone currently 55 or older, seniors would have the option of buying private insurance or a traditional Medicare plan. However seniors would have to make up the difference if the traditional Medicare plan costs more than a private plan offering comparable coverage.
Following his appearance in Windham, the president spoke in Rochester to complete his sixth trip to New Hampshire since the start of his presidency. Obama has held a narrow lead in recent polls in this swing state, whose four electoral votes could be critical in the general election.
At Windham, Obama reprised the major points of his campaign stump speech, including higher taxes on the wealthy, an extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, promotion of alternative energy, improved services for veterans, and more affordable higher education.
“The centerpiece of my opponent’s entire economic plan is a new $5 trillion tax cut, a lot of it going to the wealthiest Americans. And his new running mate, Congressman Ryan” — a reference greeted by a loud chorus of boos — “he put forward a plan that would let Governor Romney pay less than 1 percent in taxes each year,” Obama said.
“Here’s the kicker: He expects you to pick up the tab.”
The president said Romney would raise taxes by an average of $2,000 for middle-class families with children.
“Ask Governor Romney and his running mate when they’re here in New Hampshire on Monday . . . ask them if that’s fair. Ask them how it’ll grow the economy. Ask them how it will strengthen the middle class,” Obama said.
“They have tried to sell this trickle-down snake oil before. It did not work then, and it will not work now. It’s not a plan to create jobs. It will not reduce the deficit. It will not move the economy forward.”
Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, called Obama’s speech a “false attack” and said that the president’s proposals would burden “private investment and job creators, which will lead to higher unemployment and fewer jobs.”
The Romney plan, Williams added, “eliminates taxes for the middle class on interest, dividends, and capital gains, and implements pro-growth policies to deliver more jobs and more take-home pay for middle-class families.”
The president also defended his controversial health-reform legislation, the signature accomplishment of his first term, and co-opted a negative reference to the act that has been used widely by his opponents.
“I’m kind of fond of the term ‘Obamacare,’ because I do care,” the president said with a smile. The crowd answered with laughter.
“It was the right thing to do. The Supreme Court has spoken. We are not going backwards. We are going forward,” Obama said in a rising cadence to swelling applause.
The president left the stage to the blaring strains of a Bruce Springsteen song, “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Before the speech, Barbara Frake, 63, an Obama supporter and artist from Newton, N.H., said she intended to vote for the president again, in part because of Romney’s selection of Ryan to be his running mate.
“Paul Ryan scares the daylights out of me,” Frake said, citing his opposition to abortion rights and prospective cuts to “programs we need that are already in trouble,” such as education.
Edwina Mitchell, 65, a Native American from Indian Island, Maine, said she intends to vote for Obama again, and that she expects him to be reelected.
“They never gave this guy a chance, right from the get-go, and then they blame everything on him,” said Mitchell, who is a finance clerk for the Penobscot tribe.