The Romney and Obama campaigns — both convinced that their man is more trustworthy with the future of Medicare — ramped up the debate this weekend, with operatives trading prickly barbs, the president dismissing Republican plans as “snake oil” and Paul Ryan bringing his 78-year-old mother into the fracas.
Hoping to turn what has long been a political strength for Democrats into a liability, presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other Republicans are trying to hammer home charges that Mr. Obama “raided” Medicare by $700 billion in order to pay for other parts of his health care overhaul.
Mr. Romney launched the strategy last week, and Mr. Ryan, joined by his mother, Betty Ryan Douglas, continued the line of attack at an appearance Saturday before a crowd of thousands of mostly senior citizens at the Villages, a sprawling retirement community near Orlando, Fla.
“When I think of Medicare, it’s not just a program, it’s not just a bunch of numbers, it’s what my mom relies on,” he said. “We want this debate. We need this debate, and we’re going to win this debate.”
“Congressman Ryan he put forward a plan that would allow Gov. Romney to pay less than 1 percent in taxes each year,” the president said. “Their ideas are pretty simple — they’re not hard to explain. They think if we do more tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, then somehow prosperity’s going to rain down on all of us.”
Team Obama also dispatched deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter to the Sunday talk-show circuit, where she defended the Medicare savings created by the Affordable Care Act by insisting that most of the cuts came from trimming wasteful overpayments to private insurers.
“It means they’re going to use taxpayer dollars to give overpayments to insurance companies,” Ms. Cutter said.
A congressman from Wisconsin, Mr. Ryan is known for putting together a budget that would cut Medicare and turn it into a premium support system that allows seniors to use vouchers to buy private insurance.
But now that he is paired up with Mr. Romney, the two are promising to return all of Mr. Obama’s Medicare cuts if elected. While light on the details, they say their plan would offer premium vouchers beginning in 2023 while preserving the option of traditional Medicare.
The Republicans emphasize that their plan wouldn’t go into effect until 2023 and would have no effect on benefits for Americans 55 and older.
“Our solution to preserve, protect and save Medicare does not affect your benefits,” Mr. Ryan said. “Let me repeat that. Our plan does not affect the benefits for people who are in or near retirement.”