In Florida-oriented interview, Paul Ryan discusses Cuba, immigration & NASA

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Making his first foray into the Sunshine State since becoming the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan on Saturday sought to clarify his stance on several hot-button state issues including Medicare reform, the Cuban embargo, immigration and the future of NASA.

In a one-on-one interview with Alex Sanz, the vice presidential hopeful said, unlike President Barack Obama, he and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are committed to preserving Medicare for future retirees.

“The first thing we have to remember is President Obama raided $716 billion from the Medicare program to help pay for the Obamacare program,” Ryan said.

“He puts [forth] this new board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who are required to cut Medicare every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors,” Ryan added. “What Mitt Romney and I propose is to stop this raid, restore that money and get rid of this board that will lead to denied care for current seniors.”

Speaking to a group of mostly senior citizens at The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida on Saturday morning, Ryan stressed that under the plan he and Romney have proposed, Medicare benefits for the three million-plus people already enrolled in the program in Florida would remain unchanged.

Ryan stressed that he favors a system where future Medicare participants could opt to keep the current program’s structure as one of many options.

“It’s an idea that came out of the Clinton Commission to save Medicare, where future seniors have guaranteed choices, where they have a menu of options to pick from, just like Medicare Advantage works today, or Medicare Part D, including traditional Medicare,” Ryan said referencing a proposal he drafted with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-OR) last year.

Danny Kanner, a spokesperson for Obama for America, defended the president’s position on Medicare after Ryan’s campaign appearance — charging that the Wisconsin congressman lied about his plan because the details were “politically suicidal.”

“He didn’t say that if he had his way, Medicare would be bankrupt in just four years,” Kanner said. “He didn’t say that they’d turn Medicare into a voucher system, ending the Medicare guarantee and raising costs by $6,400 a year for seniors. And he certainly didn’t say that they’d do it all to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”

Ryan took issue with the Obama campaign’s figures, calling them “inaccurate.”

“Those statistics were misleading three years ago when they used them. They’re even more misleading now,” he said. “We need to restore this program because people who have already retired on the promise that Medicare would be there for them. And, that’s a promise we have to keep.”

While Romney’s selection of Ryan has rekindled the debate on the entitlement program, the vice presidential hopeful predicted the election would hinge on the economy — something he says Democrats want to avoid.

“President Obama has not offered the kind of leadership it takes to get people back to work, to prevent our deficit from getting out of control — which is hurting our economy,” Ryan told FLDemocracy.

“The president can’t run on his record. It’s a bad record. And, what he’s doing now, is he is running on distraction. On distortions. He’s running a campaign of frustration and anger.”

During his interview with Sanz of FLDemocracy2012.com, Ryan sought to reassure Cuban-Americans in South Florida that despite voting to lift the embargo against Cuba in 2001 and 2004, he has since changed his position on the issue.

Ryan, who opposed a measure that would have weakened the embargo in 2007, said he and Romney would maintain a hardline against the Communist regime.

Ryan pointed to his friendship with some of Florida’s most prominent Cuban-Americans as evidence of his commitment to seeing an end to the Castro regime.

“One of my best friends in Congress is Mario Diaz-Balart. I’m also good friends with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And, I’ve had some great meetings with them — briefings from them — over the last number of years about how important it is to make sure we stare down the Castro regime and we do nothing that helps embolden the Castro regime.”

During an appearance on Miami’s Radio Mambí last week, Romney explained that Ryan changed his position on the embargo after meeting with Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen.

Ryan, who voted against the Obama-backed DREAM Act and has opposed amnesty for most illegal immigrants, said he supported — but hadn’t endorsed — the immigration reform efforts of Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’ve been impressed with Marco Rubio’s leadership on this issue,” he said. “Marco Rubio was on the cusp of introducing the bipartisan solution to immigration problems. President Obama preempted that with what many people think is an unconstitutional move and denied the ability to have a bipartisan solution to these legitimate immigration issues that we have to solve.”

The seven-term congressman called NASA, which has shed thousands of jobs after the retirement of the space shuttle and the cancellation of its Constellation program, an “invaluable asset to our national security.”

Ryan, who voted against the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts, told Sanz he believes in a “robust space program.”

“President Obama has advanced what we think are devastating and irresponsible cuts to defense programs. We want to restore that because we believe in peace through strength. We believe in scientific research. We obviously believe that a robust space program is in the vital national security interests of America,” Ryan said. “Mitt Romney has committed to restoring our national defense which we see as a national security issue including our space programs.”

Ryan declined to say which role, if any, commercial space companies such as Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, would have under a Romney-Ryan administration.

Ryan also took issue with critics who say he and Romney lack foreign policy credentials, telling FLDemocracy, “I have more experience than President Obama did when he came into office.”

“I have been in Congress a number of years. I have voted to send men and women to war. I have been to those funerals. I have visited with our troops overseas in war zones to get their perspective. So, we have that kind of experience,” Ryan added.

Ryan said he and Romney share the same principles and values when it comes to national security and foreign policy.

“We believe in the doctrine of peace through strength. We believe in having a strong military. We believe in strengthening our relationships with our allies abroad. And, making sure that our adversaries know that we have resolve,” Ryan said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.