President Barack Obama, campaigning Sunday in Florida, defended his commitment to space research and told future retirees that they'll see Medicare costs rise and benefits suffer if Republican Mitt Romney is elected.
On the second day of a two-day bus tour through the battleground state, the Democratic president targeted voting blocs in eastern Florida tied to the Space Coast economy around the Kennedy Space Center, as well as senior citizens. “I will never turn Medicare into a voucher,” Obama told a crowd of 3,050 at a technology institute in Melbourne.
Obama cited an analysis by Harvard professor David Cutler that says the Medicare changes favored by Romney will translate to $16 billion to $26 billion in new profits for insurers by the end of the next decade: “Your costs would rise by thousands so that their profits could rise by millions.”
Romney's campaign disputed the findings. Spokesman Ryan Williams said Obama was relying on “discredited” analyses and “outright falsehoods.”
Obama said in Melbourne, an area affected by job losses from ending the space shuttle program, that his administration has “begun an ambitious new direction” for NASA that will create new jobs.
Highlighting his focus on deep space and sending humans to Mars, Obama championed the NASA rover Curiosity's landing last month. He said Republicans want to cut federal spending on research.
Outside the speech site, protesters carried signs that read “Outsourced Manned Spaceflight” and “Obama Lied, Space Coast Died.”
Obama started the day at a restaurant in the town of Cocoa with two retired couples who he said told him they were able to live comfortably “because Medicare is there rock-solid for them.”
The president chatted briefly with other patrons of the restaurant. Bill Terrell, 73, a retired federal worker, told the president that, while he was happy to meet him, he planned to support Romney.
“I'm happy to shake a sitting president's hand, but I'm convinced that he can't handle the economy and Romney can,” Terrell said afterward. He said Obama was “very personable” and gracious about his preference for Romney.
Since embarking on his post-Democratic National Convention tour on Friday, in stops in New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida, Obama has been telling supporters at rallies that he will protect middle-class tax cuts and repair the economy whereas Romney will expand tax cuts for the wealthy, either deepening deficit spending or cutting middle-class programs to pay for it.