- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Days after tapping Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has sidelined the Wisconsin Republican’s marquee Medicare overhaul plan and has instead gone back to attacking President Obama’s health care law, which siphons more than $700 billion from the retiree health program over the next 10 years.

The move, which Mr. Romney made on the stump in Ohio and in a new television ad, attempts to shift the presumptive Republican ticket from playing defense over Mr. Ryan’s plans and back into offense by highlighting Mr. Obama’s record.

“When he ran for office, he said he’d protect Medicare, but did you know that he has taken $716 billion out of the Medicare trust fund?” Mr. Romney said in Beallsville, Ohio. “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.”

His 30-second campaign commercial takes the argument a step further, saying that the “Romney-Ryan plan protects Medicare benefits for today’s seniors and strengthens the plan for the next generation.”

Most politicians are loath to touch Medicare, the federal health program for the nation’s 49 million seniors and the disabled — two powerful voting blocs.

But all sides say the program would bankrupt the government if costs can’t be contained and in the past few years, both Mr. Obama and House Republicans, led by Mr. Ryan as chairman of the House Budget Committee, have proposed major changes.

First came Mr. Obama’s health law, which limited Medicare spending and used the money to fund other services. The Congressional Budget Office says that over the next decade, the law’s cuts to Medicare Advantage and caps on payments to hospitals and nursing services will total more than $700 billion.

Mr. Obama said those changes wouldn’t affect the care seniors get, but would instead come from squeezing savings out of providers and insurance companies.

Republicans took control of the House in 2011 on a pledge to repeal the health care law, and they have twice passed budgets, written by Mr. Ryan, that would instead turn Medicare into a voucherlike program for seniors beginning in 2023. Under that plan, known as “premium support,” the government would pay a set premium to insurance companies, which Mr. Ryan says would then try to compete for the business, delivering high-quality care at lower rates.

Mr. Ryan would also raise the retirement age to 67 by 2032 from the current 65.

Democrats said using the Ryan premium-support model would end up costing future seniors more than $6,000 a year to maintain the same benefits.

Mr. Ryan’s budget this year also retained Mr. Obama’s own Medicare cuts. Mr. Ryan justified that by saying he pumps the money back into the Medicare system to keep it solvent, rather than using it to pay for other health programs as the health care law does.

Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Obama would limit the increase of Medicare payments by tying it to growth in the nation’s gross domestic product.

Mr. Ryan, campaigning by himself Tuesday in Colorado, defended the Republican plan on Medicare in an interview with Fox News. “We’re the ones offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare. … President Obama is actually damaging Medicare for current seniors. It’s irrefutable. And that’s why I think this is a debate we want to have, and that’s a debate we’re going to win.”

Still, Mr. Romney this week put a little distance between himself and his running mate, saying that while he backs a premium-support model, he would restore the Medicare cuts Mr. Obama made in his health care law.

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