On the matter of Medicare, Mitt Romney's campaign seems to have adopted the approach that the best defense is a good offense. And while it should come as no surprise that their attacks require a degree of shamelessness and a suspension of intellectual honesty, the scope of it is breathtaking.
When the former Massachusetts governor tapped House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate, he immediately took ownership of Ryan's biggest liability, that he proposed to replace Medicare, the Great Society-era program which guaranteed health coverage for senior citizens, with a voucher-based program of the same name. The vouchers would cover a diminishing portion of seniors' healthcare costs and they'd be on the hook for the balance. The fundamental promise of Medicare would be gone.
Understandably, this proposal is unpopular, especially among senior citizens (though he exempts current Medicare beneficiaries from his proposal). So how has the Romney campaign elected to deal with this political problem? Going on offense, of course.
Obama, Romney and the GOP has started charging, "robbed" Medicare to pay for his health reform program. It's true that Obamacare cut Medicare reimbursements (not benefits). That would be a clean political hit attack but for one small problem the Romney-Ryan team has: Ryan's budget keeps those $700 billion in cuts. Oh, and Romney has endorsed Ryan's budget.
If that sounds confusing, here it is more simply: Romney and Ryan are condemning Obama for Medicare cuts that they both endorse. Like I said, it's pretty breathtaking.
But wait, there's more.
As The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn writes:
The most significant difference between the two sides, at least for the short- to medium-term, is how they handle the savings these cuts generate. Obamacare puts the money back into the pockets of people who need help with their medical bills. A portion of the money is earmarked for children and non-elderly Americans, who, starting in 2014, will become eligible for Medicaid or receive tax credits to offset the cost of private insurance. A smaller, but still significant, portion of the money is for seniors. It helps them pay for prescription drugs, by filling the "donut hole" in Medicare Part D coverage. It also eliminates out-of-pocket costs for annual wellness visits, some cancer screenings, and other preventative services.
Ryan's budget—which, again, Romney has repeatedly embraced and said he would sign—actually takes those new benefits away. The Part D donut hole would open back up. Access to free preventative care would vanish. And where would Ryan and Romney put the money instead? They say it's for deficit reduction. I'd say it's really for their big new tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy.
If nothing else, the Romney-Ryan campaign has an impressive level of chutzpah.
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Corrected on 8/13/12: A previous version of this article misstated the amount of money the Affordable Care Act and the Ryan budget cut from Medicare. It is roughly $700 billion.