By naming Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate, it was Romney who actually triggered the current showdown.
It was always clear that if Romney named Ryan, President Obama and the Democrats would go after the Medicare issue with a vengeance, and that's exactly what they're doing.
But Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans have been taking the offensive this week to blunt the Democratic attack.
Romney's GOP presidential campaign sent reporters an email this morning containing this quote from the candidate: "Under the current projections, Medicare will be insolvent in 12 years, and that's not acceptable to me. That's why we have worked very hard to come up with a solution. But, the idea that the president has put forward, cutting $716 billion out of Medicare? I think that's a real mistake."
At a rally in Oxford, Ohio Wednesday, Ryan said he welcomed the debate and said Obama was resorting to distortion and harsh rhetoric rather than discuss the issues fairly. "President Obama is out of ideas," Ryan said. "And that is why his campaign is based on anger and division."
This attack strategy will reach a high point at the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this month, GOP strategists say.
Since Romney announced that Ryan would be his running mate last Saturday, Obama and the Democrats have attacked Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, for his Medicare plan. This would turn Medicare from a government-run program into system under which future recipients would choose either the current program or a voucher system whereby Medicare participants would get government checks with which to buy health insurance in the marketplace.
Current recipients would retain the current program—a key point that Romney and Ryan are trying to emphasize. If they don't reassure current recipients, they could rapidly lose support among elderly voters, which would devastate their campaign in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Ryan and Romney are also trying to turn the debate over Medicare against Obama by linking it to the health-care overhaul that has been a signature Democratic initiative during Obama's presidency. They argue that Obama and the Democrats want to shift billions of dollars from Medicare to "Obamacare," as the health-care law is known.
But Obama and the Democrats say that what the Romney, Ryan and the GOP have in mind are big cutbacks, no matter what they say now.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook or Twitter.