Romney in Florida: Obama Devastated Medicare

Monday, 13 Aug 2012 12:41 PM

 

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Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, moving aggressively to defend his running mate’s budget blueprint, charged that President Barack Obama has weakened Medicare while his party is working to save it.

Romney used an appearance in Florida -- home to the nation’s largest population of seniors -- to wade into a politically risky debate over the government health program for the elderly, citing the Medicare plan offered by his vice presidential pick, Representative Paul Ryan, as an example of the contrast between the Republican ticket’s vision and Obama’s.

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman Romney chose Aug. 11 to join him on the Republican ticket, has “come up with ideas that are very different than the president’s,” Romney told voters at a rally at Flagler College in St. Augustine. “The president’s idea, for instance, for Medicare was to cut it by $700 billion. That’s not the right answer. We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare.”

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The Wisconsin congressman is the architect of a fiscal plan that includes steep spending cuts and the eventual transformation of Medicare from government insurance into a federal subsidy for private coverage. Democrats charge it would amount to scrapping Medicare, and analysts believe it would increase costs or reduce benefits for many seniors.

Medicare Cuts

Romney referred today to Obama’s health-care overhaul, which was financed in part by cutting $500 billion in Medicare spending, including payments to private insurers that contract with the program. What he didn’t say is that Ryan would keep those cuts -- though he proposes using them to help shore up Medicare over the long term. Romney’s campaign has said in he wouldn’t keep the $500 billion in savings.

Obama’s campaign struck back swiftly, saying Republicans’ plan would hurt seniors.

“The truth is that the Romney-Ryan budget would end Medicare as we know it by pushing seniors into the private market and raising their health-care costs by thousands of dollars per year,” Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

The exchange over competing fiscal plans comes as Romney, his presidential bid reframed and reinvigorated by the addition of Ryan as his running mate, vies with Obama to define voters’ choices in a campaign now squarely focused on opposing views on economic policy and the role of government.

Poll Response Mixed

It wasn’t clear whether Ryan’s addition to the ticket would be an asset or a liability for Romney, with a new survey indicating the public is split over the selection. A USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 42 percent of Americans view Ryan as a “fair” or “poor” choice, while 39 percent think he is an “excellent” or “pretty good” choice.

According to the survey, 17 percent said they were more likely to vote for Romney in November because Ryan is on the ticket, about the same boost former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin gave 2008 Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain among registered voters.

Romney, on the third day of a bus tour of electoral battlegrounds where he must win independent voters, is seeking to present his ticket as one of consensus-building and optimism, while Democrats try to portray it as one of hardline ideology and austerity.

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Medicare Messaging

“What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it’s there for current seniors,” Romney told CBS in an interview taped for the “60 Minutes” program that aired last night. “No changes, by the way, for current seniors, or those nearing retirement. But looking for young people down the road and saying, ‘We’re going to give you a bigger choice.’”

Obama’s team argued that Ryan’s budget would gut Medicare while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest. “Top-down economics is central” to Romney “and it is central to his running mate,” the president told about 1,000 donors at Bridegport Art Center in Chicago yesterday.

Calling Ryan “the ideological leader of the Republicans,” Obama said the Wisconsin lawmaker is “an articulate spokesman” for Romney’s vision. “But it’s a vision that I fundamentally disagree with.”

Even as he defended Ryan’s ideas, Romney worked to distinguish his plans from his running mate’s budget blueprint.

Romney Budget

Asked whether the presidential race was now a referendum on the Ryan proposal, Romney told CBS: “I have my budget plan, as you know, that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.”

Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget and talked generally about a fiscal plan that shares much in common with it, including slashing federal spending by $500 billion by 2016 and changes to Medicare that would allow seniors a choice of staying in the traditional program or using subsidies to buy private insurance. Romney, though, hasn’t provided specifics about the government spending he would cut or how he would finance individual and corporate tax cuts amounting to $5 trillion over a decade.

Even as Republicans braced for a period of heightened criticism by Democrats that targets Ryan, Romney was reveling in a vice presidential pick that has brought new enthusiasm to his White House bid within the party and given him a campaign-trail companion with whom he shares a warm rapport.

New Energy

Romney, 65, who sometimes appears stiff and uncomfortable interacting with voters, has visibly relaxed and brightened his mood since Ryan, 42, joined him for the running-mate announcement Aug. 11 in Norfolk, Virginia. In a break with his usual demeanor, Romney spent the weekend giving thumbs-up signs and high fives to voters who crowded in to greet him and Ryan.

Several of his weekend campaign stops with Ryan in Virginia and North Carolina drew crowds of 5,000 or more -- with many of the supporters waving American flags and newly printed red, white and blue “Romney Ryan” signs. An emotional homecoming rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, for Ryan last night that capped the national rollout for him and Romney drew more than 10,000 people.

The two then went their separate ways -- Ryan departing for Iowa, which Obama is also visiting today, and Romney resuming the bus tour that ends tomorrow in Ohio.

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Over the weekend, Romney described Ryan as a principled leader searching for common ground with Democrats, several times highlighting the congressman’s collaboration last year with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon on changes to his Medicare plan.

Ryan, whose original Medicare plan would have shifted the entire program to one defined by its contributions, teamed with Wyden on a paper proposing adding an option for seniors to stay in the traditional program, which is defined by its benefits. That proposal was similar to the one included in Ryan’s latest House-passed budget, which received no Democratic votes.

Wyden, though, pushed back in a statement yesterday that called Romney’s comments “nonsense,” and said he ultimately opposed Ryan’s proposal. In Florida today, Romney made no mention of Wyden.

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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