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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich greets a graduate after giving his commencement address, during the 150th Commencement of Eureka College on Saturday, May 14, 2011. (The Pantagraph/STEVE SMEDLEY)

EUREKA -- Newly declared Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich used his visit to Eureka College on Saturday to praise the conservative legacy of President Ronald Reagan and call for decentralizing Social Security and Medicaid.

The former U.S. House speaker told Eureka College graduates Saturday that their alma mater was one of the most influential institutions of the late 20th century because of its association with Reagan.

"The collapse of the Soviet Union began here in 1928," he said in his address at the college's 150th commencement ceremony. "The resurrection of general economics and the development of American economic growth and jobs for 25 years began here when Dutch Reagan took a degree in economics and sociology."

In a news conference after the ceremony, the former Georgia congressman said he has urged the House's Social Security subcommittee to hold hearings around the country - and allow testimony only from people under age 30.

"Let the generation that has the biggest long-term stake in Social Security reform come to grips with their lifetime, their future, the mathematics of their retirement," Gingrich said. "Let them give you ideas. I think you'd have a whole new conversation that wouldn't resemble any of the current partisan bickering in Washington."

The Social Security system was designed when there were 42 workers for every person receiving benefits and now that is three workers for each benefit recipient, he said.

"A retirement program designed when the average person died at 62 can't possibly make sense when people live to 90 or 100," he said.

He called for replacing the current system with personal retirement accounts "so you can build up the time value of your money for your entire lifetime."

Gingrich decried Medicaid as a fraud-plagued system and called for letting states figure out how to reform the medical care program for low-income Americans.

He said that while American Express loses 0.03 percent to fraud, New York State's Medicaid fraud losses are about 10 percent.

"I would block-grant it (Medicaid funding) back to the 50 states," he said. "Let them experiment with it. Some of them are going to be smart. Some of them aren't going to be smart.

"Hopefully over time the government will learn from the smart ones, but we're not going to get a national solution to everything."

When asked how his foreign policy would differ from President Barack Obama's, Gingrich said, "I have one."

He criticized Obama for a recent speech about the conflict in Libya. In the speech, Obama "cites the Arab League and United Nations eight times and the American Congress once. It is a fundamentally flawed understanding of reality."

The graduation ceremony was outside in Rinker Amphitheater during a steady downpour.

Brian Sajko, the college's vice president for admissions, communications and integrated marketing, said the college also had made arrangements to hold the commencement inside at Reagan Physical Education Center. The decision was made to keep the ceremony outside because there was more seating and the National Weather Service predicted the rain would pass.

About 140 of the 171 graduates eligible to participate, including those who completed requirements in December, received their degrees Saturday.


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