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How The White House Inadvertently Blasted Paul Ryan's Budget To His Face

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In the April 2011 speech at George Washington University, Obama sharply criticized Ryan's proposal to privatize Medicare, saying, "It's a vision that says America can't afford to keep the promise we've made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you're a 65 year old who's eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn't worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck - you're on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it."

Ryan called the speech a "partisan broadside," and other Republican leaders voiced similar sentiments.

According to the "FRONTLINE" report, top administration officials didn't expect Ryan to attend the speech. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reported in August 2012 that the White House invited Ryan and gave him a V.I.P. seat for the speech.

Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff at the time, tried to warn Obama of Ryan's presence, but didn't get to him in time. And with the bright lights shining on stage, blocking his view of the crowd, the President went ahead with his critique.

"I mean, Jesus, it was heavy," former Sen. Alan Simpson told FRONTLINE. "He didn't use Ryan's name, he just made fun of anyone who could propose anything like what he had read recently as a proposal presented to the House Republican leadership that did this to old people, and it went on and on. It was tough. And it was nasty."

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling chased Ryan down after the speech. "All I was trying to do was to let him know that -- that we didn't know they were coming," Sperling told FRONTLINE. "His response was that he felt the President had 'poisoned the well.'"

The episode, titled "Cliffhanger," airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, coinciding with Obama's State of the Union address. It details the budget clashes to come, following the fiscal cliff deal, and covers House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) disappointment after his "Plan B" fiscal cliff proposal failed.

Watch the clip:

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