SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) — The jobs-and-economy election suddenly seems all about Medicare — for now, at least.
Republican Mitt Romney is embracing a topic his party usually approaches gingerly. He is taking a calculated risk that voters’ worries about federal deficits and the Democrats’ health care overhaul have opened the door for a robust debate on the solvency of Medicare, the insurance program for retirees.
President Barack Obama is welcoming the conversation, which has temporarily taken attention from the weak economic recovery.
One party may regret its position on Nov. 6.
Retirees in politically prized states such as Florida have often resisted changes in Medicare, one of the government’s most popular but costliest programs. But GOP strategists say today’s voters realize Medicare spending must be constrained, and Romney is banking on disenchantment with Obama’s 2010 health care law to pave the way for his own proposals.
Romney, who has spent more than a year running almost entirely on the economy and jobs, put Medicare at the campaign’s center when he chose as his running mate. Rep. Paul Ryan is Congress’ chief advocate of significantly restraining entitlement programs.
Ryan was critical of Obama’s handling of Medicare during a campaign stop in Springfield, Va., repeating his assertion thata the GOP ticket welcomed the debate over the future of Medicare. The Wisconsin congressman is expected to revisit Medicare in some depth in Florida on Saturday. He will face voters in a retirement community north of Orlando known as The Villages. Ryan’s 78-year-old mother, a Medicare recipient, plans to attend.
“We will not duck the tough issues; we will lead,” Ryan told the Virginia crowd.
Romney’s willingness to tackle the issue was underscored Thursday when he used a marker and classroom-type whiteboard to summarize his thoughts on Medicare, with hardly a word about the unemployment rate. He said his plans would keep Medicare solvent while Obama’s would not, a claim Democrats call absurd.
On Friday, summarizing the political view from the right, the Romney campaign distributed a Wall Street Journal editorial that declared: “By governing so far to the left, Mr. Obama may have neutralized ‘Mediscare’ and made voters more receptive to center-right solutions. Medicare is already changing because it must.”
The Obama campaign released a new TV ad Friday defending the president’s record on Medicare. It points to the AARP, a group that represents senior citizens and said in a letter to lawmakers earlier this year that Ryan’s plan would lead to higher costs for seniors.
Obama’s campaign released a separate ad Friday that sought to undercut Romney by pointing to Ryan’s voting record on funding for Planned Parenthood and abortion. “For women, for president, the choice is ours,” the ad says. It was airing in Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Iowa.
Though Medicare dominated the debate Friday, the parties engaged in another brief skirmish on Romney’s personal tax returns. His campaign rejected a call for Romney to release five years of his federal tax returns — instead of the two years he has agreed to — in exchange for the Obama campaign’s pledge to drop further demands on the subject.