At a town hall Thursday, Jeb Bush refused to back down to criticism from Democrats, and one animated local voter, who charged him with “attacking the seniors” over his push for entitlement reform.
The woman told Bush she was very concerned about news reports alleging that Bush’s policies would do away or change Medicare.
“My Medicare right now is wonderful and I paid into it for all these years. Why are always attacking the seniors?” she asked Bush.
However, the GOP Presidential hopeful said his comments on reform had been taken out of context.
“No, no… I didn’t say that,” Bush said in response. “I said we’re going to have to reform our entitlement system.”
The night before, during a discussion hosted by conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, Bush criticized liberals for refusing to talk about entitlement reform and gave the example of Democrats’ response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal on Medicare.
“The first thing I saw was a TV ad of a guy that looked just like Paul Ryan … that was pushing an elderly person off the cliff in a wheelchair. That’s their response,” Bush said.
“I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something, because they’re not going to have anything.”
Democrats seized on the comments, saying they show Bush is out of touch with middle class families.
“I am sick and tired of Republicans who say that the only way to save Medicare is to destroy it. But my frustration is nothing compared to what it must be like for hardworking Americans who have their peace-of-mind and well-being threatened every time Republicans want to score a few political points,” DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on a call with reporters Thursday.
Chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party Ray Buckley said Republicans will face opposition in the first-in-the-nation parimary state if they try to “destroy Medicare.”
“[Bush] thinks phasing out Medicare will be a quote-unquote ‘winning argument.’ I’m happy to take that bet. Not here in the Granite State,” Buckley also said on the call.
Bush said the attacks underscore the real problem.
“It took less than a day for me to be attacked for the very thing that I predicted would happen and that’s just ridiculous. We need to have a grown-up conversation about these issues,” Bush said to reporters after the town hall.
Bush promised he would not seek to change benefits for people who already have them, and that pushing for reforms is the only way to save the system from crumbling under mountains of debt for future generations.
“If we do nothing that’s the burden we’re going to place on to your children and grandchildren that you’re concerned about and so am I,” Bush told the woman questioning him.
Bush also talked about his record in Florida, where older communities represent a significant part of the population and he suggested reforms like lifting the payroll tax cap for contributions to Social Security or raising the retirement age.
In order to find consensus on the issue, Bush told the crowd, Democrats and Republicans need to focus on “elevating the level of education among people and finding a way to phase this in.”
In the end, Bush lightened the mood be referencing his mother, First Lady Barbara Bush.
“‘Why do I hate old people?’ My mother, I hope she doesn’t watch Morning Joe where someone is accusing me of hating older people because she’s going to kill me you know,” Bush joked with the audience.