Supporters of both candidates in the First District congressional race turned out on Mays Island Wednesday afternoon for an event organized by Rep. Bruce Braley's campaign.
About two dozen Braley supporters and about half that many backers of Republican challenger Ben Lange jockeyed for position in the afternoon heat, trying to hold their candidate's placard above or in front of their opponent's during a 25-minute event designed to show Braley's support for Medicare.
Braley, D-Waterloo, and two supporters sought to tie Lange to what Braley called "the Romney-Ryan-Lange proposal" for Medicare and Social Security. That's a reference to the voucher-based coverage espoused by Republican Mitt Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
"It would end Medicare as we know it," said Jan Laue of Urbandale, Iowa president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. "I think we can all agree it would be a very different program under Romney-Ryan. It's going to replace the guaranteed benefit we have, and it's going to force seniors to go onto the open market."
Rockwell Collins retiree Norm Sterzenbach said his Medicare benefits are "very similar to my Cadillac plan at Rockwell" and doubted he'd get the same benefits on the private market.
"I'm not so sure they'd be willing to pay the benefits I've been accustomed to," said Sterzenbach, 66, of Cedar Rapids, who spoke before Braley.
"We need to live up to our commitment," said Braley. "I'm asking (voters) to listen to the choice that I'm offering them."
Braley said the changes under the Affordable Care Act - both he and the Lange supporters call it "Obamacare" - will help ensure Medicare's finances.
"We did that when we passed Obamacare because we increased its solvency by 12 years," Braley said, adding seniors won't find cheaper coverage from private insurors. "That should be a good thing that people celebrate. Instead, people are making up lies about Medicare benefits being reduced."
Lange's keyed his attack on Braley's support for the ACA to the law's the provision reducing Medicare spending $761 billion over 10 years.
The reductions, about 1.3 percent a year, come from reduced payments to insurors and providers, mostly hospitals. Braley said other sections of the ACA will encourage more efficient services.
"We included provisions that make sure we're going to pay for quality, not quantity," said Braley, including "new ideas from the health care profession. Many of the health care systems here in Iowa are moving in this direction now, because they see it as the way of the future."
Braley sharply disagreed with the premise of Blake Behler's question when Behler, 27, asked why he'd "gut" Medicare.
"You are totally misrepresenting what I said," Braley said. "Can you name one senior who's had their Medicare benefits reduced since Obamacare was passed? What happened was, some of the key players who drive up the cost of Medicare premiums came to the negotiating table with us, sat down and made compromises in what they'd accept for payment, and that's where that cost savings was realized."
"I just wanted to see what Congressman Braley had to say," said Lange supporter Bob Klaus, who said he got a call from Lange's campaign alerting him to Braley's event.
Klaus, 64, of Cedar Rapids, said "I'm not that educated on it to really speak to" Lange's Medicare plan, but "Obamacare, I'm totally against."A press release issued today by Lange's office doesn't specify what the challenger would do about Medicare, only that it can be "saved if the American people fire the Washington politicians and hire real leaders willing to work together to preserve, protect, and strengthen Medicare by giving future seniors more options, more choices, and more control over their health care."