Salena Zito

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan says he wants “to bring on” the Medicare debate with the Obama administration in the campaign for the White House.

“We are heading towards a European-like debt crisis which means a deeper recession, fewer jobs, lower revenues and bigger deficits if we don’t get our fiscal house in order fast,” Ryan said on Thursday in an interview with the Tribune-Review.

The Wisconsin congressman, tapped last weekend by Mitt Romney to join the GOP ticket, discussed the campaign after a rally and an unscheduled stop for hot dogs and hand-shaking at The Hot Dog Shoppe in nearby Warren.

“President Obama has punted on this issue. He has ducked the issue of fiscal responsibility, and that is a huge threat to our economy,” Ryan said.

He criticized the president for “raiding” Medicare to pay for the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act — also known as Obamacare. The Obama administration wants to use $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade to pay for portions of the new health care law.

“This is a debate we need to have. It is a debate that we are starting and very confident in winning,” Ryan said.

Senior citizens will be upset when they realize Obama’s signature legislative achievement will put their Medicare in jeopardy, he said.

Romney has vowed to overturn the legislation and restore the $716 billion to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled. The program accounts for 15 percent of all federal spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan offered a plan to trim more than $700 billion from Medicare and install a voucher program to help reduce the federal debt. He has voted to repeal Obamacare.

Ryan told the Trib that the $716 billion in cuts will lead to fewer services for seniors and creation of a government board to oversee those cuts.

“The Independent Payment Advisory Board is made up of 15 bureaucrats that are appointed by the president unelected, unaccountable, and their job is to put further price controls and cuts to Medicare providers, which will lead to even more denied services to current seniors,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s emergence has changed the campaign’s focus to fiscal matters, experts say. That could boost the GOP ticket, “given the public’s concerns with debt and deficits,” or the unpopularity of Ryan’s proposals could become a hurdle for the Romney campaign, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.