Gingrich: I Wasn't Talking About Ryan's Plan on 'Meet the Press'

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Newt Gingrich said today that he wasn't referring to Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) Medicare plan when he uttered the words "right-wing social engineering" last Sunday -- a comment that has earned the former House speaker a barrage of criticism that ultimately let him to call Ryan and apologize.

In a live interview with Rush Limbaugh Thursday afternoon, Gingrich said he hadn't actually criticized Ryan's plan in his Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press," and that he wasn't referring to the Wisconsin congressman when he said those words.

"It was not a reference to Paul Ryan. There was no reference to Paul Ryan in that answer," Gingrich told Limbaugh, who was in the process of gently grilling him about why he used those words in the NBC interview.

Limbaugh asked Gingrich why, then, did he call Ryan to apologize for the remark, if it wasn't made in reference to Ryan.

"It was interpreted in a way which was causing trouble which he doesn't need or deserve," Gingrich said. "My answer wasn't about the budget, and I promptly went back to say publicly that I would have voted for the Ryan budget."

Here's the transcript from the "Meet the Press" interview that has caused so many problems for the former House speaker, with the phrase in question bolded. Ryan's Medicare plan, to which Gregory seemed to refer to, would end Medicare's fee-for-service structure and essentially voucherize the program, instead giving seniors "premium-support payments" to buy their own insurance plans. You be the judge:

MR. GREGORY: What about entitlements? The Medicare trust fund, in stories that have come out over the weekend, is now going to be depleted by 2024, five years earlier than predicted. Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors...

REP. GINGRICH: Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...some premium support and--so that they can go out and buy private insurance?

REP. GINGRICH: I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do. At the Center for Health Transformation, which I helped found, we published a book called "Stop Paying the Crooks." We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington. We--between Medicare and Medicaid, we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa's agreed to help solve it. You can't get anybody in this town to look at it. That's, that's almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare.

MR. GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.

REP. GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the--I don't want to--I'm against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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