Gingrich: Voters will permit GOP to fix Medicare

Newt Gingrich on "Face the Nation," May 22, 2011.

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said Sunday that Wis. Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial Medicare proposal was a "big plan" that the GOP could modify with the support of the American people - and that he thought Democrats were using "scare tactics" to try to inspire fear among voters with regards to the plan.

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," Gingrich again attempted to explain comments he made last week about Ryan's plan for Medicare, which he described as "radical" and "right-wing social engineering."

Gingrich, who later walked back those comments and apologized to Ryan, told CBS' Bob Schieffer that the remarks were not explicitly about Ryan, but rather addressed a larger point about the role of government in society.

"I would have voted for Ryan's budget," Gingrich said. "I wasn't referring to Ryan. I was referring to a general principle. We the people should not have Washington impose large-scale change on us." (Gingrich, when asked specifically on "Meet the Press" last week if he approved of "what Paul Ryan is suggesting" to improve Medicare, said, "I think that that is too big a jump.")

On "Face the Nation," however, Gingrich contended that although Ryan's proposal for Medicare was a work in progress, the American people would ultimately allow the GOP to iron out the kinks in the plan and fix the Medicare system.

"We Republicans have to go to the country, we have to explain what we're trying to accomplish to save Medicare, how we would save Medicare," he said. "I believe the Republicans should start with the Ryan plan, should go to the country and explain it, but should listen to the American people and, where necessary, modify it. This is what Paul Ryan believes. It won't be a 'yes or no.'"

This, Gingrich says, is the sentiment he was trying to express last week.

"That was my point," Gingrich told Schieffer. "I probably used unfortunate language about social engineering. My point was a larger one - that neither party should impose on the American people something that they are deeply opposed to."

Gingrich accused Democrats of using scare tactics to try to turn voters against the proposal.

"This is the third time we've seen a "Medi-scare" campaign by the Democrats," Gingrich said. "If we have the courage to stand toe-to-toe and say 'This is a fiscal crisis,' we have every right as a country to talk through how to get to a better Medicare system, and it is shameful for the Democrats to lie about it."

Democrats have been highly critical of Ryan's Medicare proposal, which would transform it from a government-run program into what most people would call a voucher system.

A number of Republicans have also backed away from the plan, which many fear could alienate older voters.

Despite the stinging nature of his previous comments, however, the former House Speaker is now saying that all Ryan's proposal needs are a few tweaks.

"I think it is a big plan that needs to be worked through with the American people," Gingrich reiterated. "In that process it will clearly be modified. I think if Republicans approach it that way and have a conversation with the American people, we will in fact totally defeat the Democrat scare tactics and the American people will give us permission to make very significant reforms to Medicare."