Whether or not Romney wanted a debate about Medicare, an issue that long has favored Democrats, he has one. His campaign advisers recognize the dangers. From their perspective, it’s better to have the discussion now than in October. They are trying to take this fight to the president in a way that no Republican nominee has done before.
On Tuesday, the Romney campaign began its counterattack on the Medicare issue even before President Obama’s campaign could air its first ad on the subject. Romney’s ad charges that Obama cut more than $700 billion from Medicare to help finance his controversial health-care overhaul.
“We’re the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare,” Ryan (Wis.) told Brit Hume of Fox News Channel. “President Obama is actually damaging Medicare for current seniors. It’s irrefutable. And that’s why I think this is a debate we want to have, and that’s a debate we’re going to win.”
Romney is dealing with two problems: the details of Ryan’s budget blueprint, and questions about the differences between the running mates’ fiscal and Medicare plans.
Romney and his advisers insist that he will run on his plan, not Ryan’s. In part, they’ve done that to remind people that the tail will not wag the dog, that the running mate will not overshadow the nominee. Any presidential candidate would say the same thing.
But keeping Ryan’s plan out of the debate is virtually impossible. Romney embraced the conceptual framework of the congressman’s blueprint long before he selected Ryan as his running mate. At the time, he could preserve some space to say he wouldn’t follow every detail of Ryan’s plan.
That was before he put on the ticket a politician described as the intellectual leader of the GOP, who has been in the thick of the battle over how to transform government through tax cuts, budget reductions and entitlement reform. Pick Ryan, and you get his blueprint as your own.
On the big issues, Romney and Ryan are in agreement. They favor big tax cuts from which the wealthiest Americans would benefit significantly. They have not fully explained how they would offset that lost revenue. They support reductions in domestic discretionary spending. Both want changes that would convert Medicare into a premium support program for younger workers. Their priorities are the same.
Romney hasn’t said whether he has real differences with Ryan or mostly minor ones — on Medicare or anything else in the budget proposal. The last thing he wants is a Romney-Ryan debate, but if there are substantive differences, they ought to be highlighted and explained. One real difference is that Ryan accepts the cuts Obama made to Medicare as part of his budget. Romney would restore them but hasn’t explained why he objects to what Ryan would do.