Bixby said Ryan’s budget position is “defensible,” plowing cuts from Medicare into deficit reduction.
But speaking on conservative radio host Sean Hannity’s show on Wednesday, the Wisconsin congressman joined the chorus in pledging to fight the cuts.
“We’re going to have this debate, and we’re going to win this debate,” Ryan said. “It’s the president who took $716 billion . . . from the Medicare program to spend on Obamacare. That’s cuts to current seniors that will lead to less services for current seniors. We don’t do that. We actually say end the raid and restore that, so that those seniors get the benefits today that they organize their lives around.”
Bixby said Romney has muddied efforts to curb red ink with his promise to restore the money. “I’m trying to figure out how you reduce Medicare spending without reducing Medicare spending,” he said.
Many Republicans think cutting payments to providers will succeed only in making it unaffordable for doctors to treat Medicare patients, resulting in fewer medical outlets willing to accept the federal health insurance.
In a statement, Romney campaign spokesman Andrea Saul said that “twisting the screws on providers won’t hold down costs, it just jeopardizes seniors’ access to care and threatens their benefits.”
Instead of relying on “on administrative price controls,” she said, Romney will “introduce choice and competition in the system.”
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, said Romney and Ryan must make a compelling case for the need to reduce Medicare spending for future seniors. But first, he said, they must neutralize the Democratic attacks on Ryan’s plan as one that will throw seniors off Medicare rolls.
Obama pressed that assault Wednesday in a speech in Dubuque, Iowa. His own reforms, he said, will strengthen Medicare by reducing “wasteful spending”; benefits for seniors are not cut “by a dime.” However, he said, a proposal in Ryan’s budget plan — which would offer future retirees a capped payment to purchase private insurance — “ends Medicare as we know it.”
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Bell, a former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee under Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), said he fears that Obama will win by demonizing efforts to curb Medicare growth, making it harder to find common ground on the issue in a second term.
“My sense is that this is going to be a referendum, all right. But for people like me, who are really concerned about debt trends, the outcome will be a step backwards,” he said.
Adam Fletcher, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said that the health-care law added eight years to the solvency of Medicare and that further cuts proposed by Obama in this year’s budget would add two more.
“The president has done a lot more than just talk about making Medicare more sustainable,” he said.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who has been warning of the dangers of a rising tide of debt for years, said the modern political process makes it nearly impossible for politicians to have a rational policy debate in the heated final weeks of a national campaign.
“We’re trying to solve some of the most complex policy dilemmas in history with an increasingly ADD nation,” he said. “It’s an incredibly tough challenge.”
But he said both parties should strive for a do-no-harm approach, in which they don’t allow their rhetoric to be so strident that they cannot make tough choices after the election.
Cooper said the current campaign is “not just worrying” him on the do-no-harm measure.
“It’s terrifying me,” he said.