- 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.

Mr. Romney has given only broad outlines of his Medicare plan, which is less thorough than Mr. Ryan’s detailed budget.

“He doesn’t specifically say how all the details would work,” said Paul N. Van de Water, senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “That leaves a lot of details unspecified.”

The Obama campaign said Mr. Romney’s new Medicare attack was false.

Mitt Romney’s position is Paul Ryan’s position,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “They’re running on the same ticket, and their approach to Medicare and their approach to health care would be devastating for people across this country.”

When Mr. Romney picked Mr. Ryan to be his running mate, those on both sides of the aisle said it elevated this year’s election from back-and-forth squabbles to a broader debate about big ideas, such as how to reform entitlement programs and whether to raise taxes to pay for the promises the government has made to seniors over the decades.

But just a few days in, both sides have returned to the usual back-and-forth.

Democrats sound the alarm that Mr. Romney will end Medicare “as we know it,” while the GOP team argues that of those in the race, only Mr. Obama has succeeded in passing a law that takes money out of Medicare.

Mr. Romney has brushed aside lingering concerns that the election could turn into a referendum on Mr. Ryan’s spending blueprint.

“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,” Mr. Romney said during his first joint television interview with Mr. Ryan, on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Polls, though, show that seniors don’t like the idea of the federal government tinkering with their health care, and the Obama campaign is warning that the “Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan’s plan leaves the cost on the back of seniors” by fundamentally changing the way that the program is administered.