Romney Embracing Political Risk Goes on Offense on Medicare - Businessweek
Mitt Romney, embracing political risk on an issue long considered a Democratic advantage, is attacking President Barack Obama on Medicare in a bid to turn a potential liability into an asset.
The Republican challenger and his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, whose selection has thrust the issue to the forefront of the campaign, are trying to blunt assertions by Democrats that their plan to revamp Medicare amounts to a radical and damaging assault on a cherished program.
To do so, the Republican ticket is telling voters in campaign speeches, interviews and a new television advertisement that Obama is weakening the program through cuts that undermine its long-term sustainability.
“When he ran for president, he said he’d protect Medicare, but did you know that he has taken $716 billion out of the Medicare trust fund?” Romney told a crowd including dozens of hardhat-wearing coal miners at the Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio yesterday. “He’s used it to pay for Obamacare, a risky, unproven federal government takeover of health care. And if I’m president of the United States, we’re putting the $716 billion back.”
A new campaign spot asserts that, because of Obama, “The money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that’s not for you.”
“The Romney-Ryan plan protects Medicare benefits for today’s seniors and strengthens the plan for the next generation,” the ad’s narrator says. ‘Save Medicare’
Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who heads the House Budget Committee, said the issue is a winning one for Republicans “because we’re the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare.”
“This is a debate we want to have, and that’s a debate we’re going to win,” Ryan said in an interview with Fox News last night.
It’s a new tack for a campaign that until a few days ago focused squarely on reviving the economy and creating jobs, accusing Obama of a dismal record on both.
Now, the campaigns are sparring over the government health program for the elderly, one that is prized by senior citizens who vote in disproportionate numbers. The debate has swiftly devolved into a policy-oriented round of mudslinging, with both sides misrepresenting the other’s plans. Medicare Cuts
Romney is castigating Obama for $700 billion in Medicare cuts that were used to finance the health-care law enacted in 2010, which included reduced reimbursement rates to hospitals, drug companies and insurers. Yet those reductions don’t affect the benefits that seniors are guaranteed under the program.
Democrats are also seeking to put the worst spin on the Republican plan, saying Ryan’s proposal -- which doesn’t affect people 55 or older -- would amount to scrapping Medicare for future generations. It wouldn’t do that, though some analysts have concluded that it could increase costs or reduce benefits for those future beneficiaries.
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Obama’s re-election campaign, said that under the Republican proposal, “people with Medicare would be left with nothing but a voucher in place of the guaranteed benefits they rely on today.” That is also an exaggeration, since the latest version of Ryan’s plan -- and the one Romney proposes -- would leave seniors the choice of staying in the traditional Medicare program or taking a government subsidy to buy private insurance. Seniors in Florida
Still, Democrats are convinced that voters in battleground states, particularly seniors in Florida, are concerned enough about Ryan’s original plan -- one that shifts the entire system from one of set benefits to one of set payments to be used to shop for coverage -- that the issue is a political loser for the Republican ticket.
“Romney’s embrace of Paul Ryan’s plan to replace guaranteed Medicare benefits with a privatized voucher program will be a game changer in Florida,” Obama’s pollsters, John Anzalone and Jeff Liszt, wrote in a memo distributed by his campaign. They said the issue has the potential to “immediately erode” Romney’s advantage with voters aged 65 and older, a group that could prove decisive in a close election.
“Most groups, including seniors, oppose the Ryan plan even when it’s made clear that the plan would not change Medicare for people over 55,” Anzalone and Liszt wrote. Boost for Romney
Romney’s team says it is equally certain the topic will be a boost for their candidate, allowing Republicans to criticize Obama for cutting Medicare and steering the money toward a controversial one, the health-care law critics brand Obamacare, and a term Obama has embraced.
“This allows us to go on offense,” Madden said. “We’re telling a story about why the president’s bad on Medicare, and reinforcing people’s already deep suspicions about” the health- care law and the expansion of government.
The issue has raised questions about how Romney will keep the focus on his own fiscal plans -- broad proposals on which he has generally refused to provide specifics -- when Ryan’s detailed blueprint is roundly criticized by Democrats.
For instance, the Medicare cuts for which Romney is criticizing Obama are reductions that Ryan’s budget supports. The Wisconsin congressman now says he and Romney have the same position.
“I joined the Romney ticket,” Ryan told Fox News. Harsher Tone
The Medicare debate unfolded as the campaign took on a harsher tone. Romney, wrapping up a four-state bus tour that took him to the electoral battlegrounds of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, laced into Obama, accusing him of resorting to “a new low” in politics that features “wild and reckless allegations that disgrace the office of the presidency” and “a campaign of division and anger and hate.”
“His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 percent of the pieces,” Romney told about 5,000 voters who came to hear him speak in Chillicothe, Ohio.
In response, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement that Romney’s remarks “seemed unhinged.”
Earlier, Vice President Joe Biden told voters in Danville, Virginia, that Romney would “let the big banks once again write their own rules: Unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put you all back in chains.”
That drew a swift and angry reaction from Romney’s campaign. Romney referred to the comment without naming Biden, calling it an “outrageous charge.” ‘Angry and Desperate’
“This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like,” he said.
Both campaigns also turned their focus yesterday to energy, with competing speeches from a center of wind-power development and from coal country.
At a rally in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Obama mocked Romney for calling the benefits of alternative energy “imaginary” and Ryan for labeling wind power a “fad.”
At his appearance in Beallsville, Ohio, Romney promised to achieve energy independence for North America by the end of a second term and said Obama favors regulations that are stifling coal production.
To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Chillico, Ohio, at Or firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com