By Jane Sutton
COCONUT CREEK, Florida (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden joked about his age with Florida retirees on Friday and portrayed Republican attempts to cut Social Security and Medicare as an attack on the dignity of aging Americans.
"I don't like that word 'elderly' anymore," the silver-haired and balding 69-year-old vice president joked at a packed retirement community recreation center in Florida. He said he preferred the phrase "more mature."
President Barack Obama dispatched Biden to Florida, an electoral battleground with the nation's largest concentration of people 65 and older, in an effort to paint a stark contrast between his approach to Social Security and Medicare and that of his Republican rivals.
"Look us over, look into your heart and ask ... who do you believe is genuinely committed to preserving the dignity of people in terms of their healthcare and their basic, basic ability to live?" Biden said.
Obama's budget proposal made no major changes in Medicare, which provides healthcare for 49 million older and disabled Americans, and the federal government retirement program, Social Security.
The three leading Republicans vying to run against Obama in the November 6 general election all supported the budget plan introduced this week by Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Biden said.
The plan would give seniors a government allowance to buy traditional fee-for-service Medicare or shop for coverage from private insurers in a government-run exchange. Biden said it would "voucherize" Medicare and gut the program.
He said the Ryan budget plan would also cut Social Security benefits for younger workers while giving the wealthiest Americans a trillion dollar tax cut. He portrayed the Republican approach as a cynical effort to win support among seniors by assuring them their own benefits would not be cut.
"You won't mind if your neighbors and children end up having to pay," Biden characterized Republicans as saying. "They'll tell you 'don't worry, you won't be cut,' as if all you care about is yourself."
Biden said preserving Social Security and preventing medical costs from bankrupting retirees were multi-generational interests. "We're all in this together, every generation."
(Reporting By Jane Sutton; editing by Tom Brown and Todd Eastham)