DENVER – Every Wednesday night, Mitt Romney’s Colorado campaign holds a women’s call center event at its office in the Denver West office park near Golden.
But this Wednesday, that event had a more specific focus: Medicare, the issue that’s suddenly dominating the race for the White House after Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate.
“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are offering bold ideas to strengthen the middle class and deal with our long-term debt, while the Obama plan is to raid Medicare for current seniors to pay for Obamacare and keep Medicare on a path to bankruptcy,” said a press release from the Romney campaign Tuesday announcing Wednesday’s phone bank event.
It’s part of a coordinated campaign effort to put the Obama campaign on defense on the issue, which has risen to prominence because Ryan, as House Budget Committee chairman, crafted a budget that was passed by the House GOP that will shift Medicare for many seniors under 55 to a voucher-like program.
Almost as soon as Ryan was announced as Romney’s vice presidential nominee on Saturday, the Obama campaign charged that his budget “would end Medicare as we know it.”
Ryan’s restructuring of Medicare is a plan to give seniors money they would have to use to buy insurance from private companies or from the Medicare system.
Proponents believe it will foster free-market competition between healthcare companies and, as a result, lower premiums. Opponents caution that, if it does not, many seniors will be on the hook to pay perhaps thousands of dollars out of their own pocket if the “premium support” from the government doesn’t cover their healthcare costs.
It is, at its core, a major change in how Medicare works — and a necessary one, Republicans and Ryan have long argued, in order to reduce government spending and the nation’s skyrocketing deficit.
But rather than making that argument and defending the Ryan plan, the Romney campaign has decided to turn its guns on Obama over the issue, highlighting a $716 billion cut to Medicare that was part of the Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in 2010.
That cut is the focus of the Romney campaign’s new TV ad
In Iowa Wednesday, Obama responded.
“I think they know their plan is not very popular,” Obama said to a crowd of 3,000 at an amphitheater in Dubuque. “You can tell that because they are being dishonest about my plan. Especially when it comes to Medicare.”
On Tuesday, after the ad hit the airwaves, the Obama campaign said that the $716 billion cut in Medicare spending results from efficiencies and a shift that reduces what the government pays to hospitals and providers, a means, the president often says, of “bending the cost curve.”
“What they’re referring to in this latest spot is $716 million worth of savings that the president identified that doesn’t cut benefits. It enhances benefits,” Obama’s national press secretary Ben LaBolt told FOX31 Tuesday. “It ensures that we’re getting waste and fraud out of the system, eliminating unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies and directing those into benefits for seniors.”
If the Romney campaign can rightly be accused of simplifying a complex issue in order to frame the issue in a way that helps them, they’re only borrowing the same language Obama himself has used to explain the cuts.
In an email sent Wednesday, the Romney campaign offers two examples of Obama and a top adviser both using the term “cuts” to describe the Medicare savings.
The Affordable Care Act, widely refereed to as “Obamacare”, cuts billions from the annual increases that health care providers would otherwise be getting over the next decade; it also trims $68 billion from Medicare Advantage private plans by 2016; and it requires wealthier seniors to pay higher premiums and higher Medicare payroll taxes.
Democrats argue that none of those changes take money away from seniors on Medicare, only from drug manufacturers and insurance companies that have been getting large federal subsidies.
And Obama’s campaign was quick to point out that Ryan’s own budget plan, which sparked the whole debate over Medicare in the first place, incorporates the very same $716 billion in cuts that the Romney campaign is now attacking.
“It’s an attempt to distract seniors from the fact that they’re going to end Medicare as we know it and charge seniors thousands of dollars more out of pocket each year for their health insurance,” LaBolt told FOX31. “Congressman Ryan knows it’s a distortion because he kept this same cost savings in his own budget plan that Gov. Romney is attacking the president for.”
The only real daylight between the Ryan and Obama plans is that the savings, under Obama’s order, goes to help fund the Affordable Care Act; Ryan’s preference would be to use the money to shore up Medicare.
“When [Obama] ran for office, he said he’d protect Medicare,” Romney told supporters in Ohio on Tuesday. “But did you know that he’s taken $716 billion out of the Medicare trust fund. He’s raided that trust fund. And you know what he did with it? 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.”