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Rep. Webster Defends GOP Plan To Change Medicare


Yesterday, Florida Republican Daniel Webster held a town hall meeting, where the crowd included NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN: Dan Webster is a freshman Congressman, but no political neophyte. He served 28 years in Florida's legislature before unseating Democrat Alan Grayson in last fall's election. Here in his home district, he has lots of friends.

GENE HAWKINS: I'm so proud of what you're doing. I'm so glad we got you in that race.

C: Gene Hawkins, husband of Florida's late Senator Paula Hawkins, was one of those attending Webster's town meeting in Orlando. Webster has been in Congress now for just three months, but as a member of a large and influential Republican freshman class, he says he feels he's making a difference.

DANIEL WEBSTER: We're showing that we're going to get this jobs and the economy going by just cutting spending. And we believe we can get the budget under control and our debt under control by cutting spending. And that's the focus, and I think it's going to work out good.

ALLEN: In an interview, he said it's a tough budget decision, but one that can't be avoided.

PAUL RYAN: We cannot keep going. Medicare is going to be broken by the year 2020, which is just nine years away, and - at least Part A - and we've got to do something about it.

ALLEN: In front of a standing-room-only audience of some 300 people, Webster puts up charts to talk about the deficit and efforts to bring it under control.

WEBSTER: And so there's a problem within the entitlement programs, which are the mandatory spending. The Ryan budget, which you may have heard, quote, is just named after the budget chair, Congressman Ryan, put forth...


ALLEN: Maria Reynolds asked him how he could support a plan that cuts Medicare, while at the same time lowering taxes for business.

MARIA REYNOLDS: And what that does is you're going to give them that tax break to take away Medicare from me. I'm at that age where I wouldn't get it. How do you think - and I have preexisting problems. What insurance company is going to insure me? You tell me.

ALLEN: Congressman Webster told her without the overhaul, Medicare may be insolvent and unable to provide her with any coverage when she turns 65. Many in the audience weren't happy with that response, or with the large spending cuts Webster says are unavoidable. Several times he was asked why - along with spending cuts - won't Congress consider raising taxes?

WEBSTER: In the economy that we have today, I'm not really in favor of raising taxes, because, to me, we need to get people back to work, and the more we start taxing people, the less opportunity...


ALLEN: Outside, Sue Costerline was holding a sign protesting Webster's support for the Ryan budget.

SUE COSTERLINE: When people realized what they're up to - and a lot of people still don't realize it - when they realize what they're up to, there will be a - the sleeping giant is awakening.

ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, Orlando.

INSKEEP: Congressman Webster is not the only lawmaker facing questions about Medicare. The man who authored the Republican budget plan is Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan received praise from many pundits, but has been getting a more mixed response back home. Many people at his town hall meetings in recent days were supportive, while others booed loudly as Ryan advocated lower taxes for the wealthy.


INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.