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Romney: The scrutiny cometh

Florida, Florida, Florida. The Tampa Bay Times: “Mitt Romney returns to Florida with Medicare back as central issue.” The paper’s lead: “Romney mentioned the word Medicare only twice Monday in his first Florida stop after picking a running mate, but no one doubts it will be a central part of the campaign fight in this must-win state… Vice presidential pick Paul Ryan, who advocates fundamentally restructuring Medicare, has introduced the subject of entitlement reform like never before in a presidential race.”

The Washington Post: “Ryan stirs cheers, heckling in Midwest.”

The Des Moines Register's editorial board goes after Ryan: “Ryan deserves credit for confronting this issue, which most other members of Congress would as soon ignore. He is right, in principle, that federal spending must be reduced. He is right, in principle, that spending on federal entitlements must be reined in. Ryan’s cure is in many respects as bad as the disease, however. He would convert the highly effective Medicare program into a voucher system for future retirees. He would sharply cut Medicaid funding and let the states figure out how to provide medical care for the poor. His proposal to cut spending on food stamps drew criticism from his own church in a statement from the U.S. Catholic bishops.”

Ryan plan primer: “Under the Ryan plan, for example, taxpayers in the lowest fifth of income would see their taxes increase slightly,” the Boston Globe writes. “Those earning $40,000 to $70,000 would get a $739 cut, and those in the top 0.1 percent would get a $773,000 cut. But financing for those cuts remains vague; the Ryan plan said they will be paid for by eliminating various unnamed tax deductions.”

More: “Ryan also believes that, even while cutting tax rates, revenues would go from 15.5 percent of GDP to 19 percent in 2030. The effectiveness of cutting tax rates in anticipation of boosting economic activity has been the subject of debate for years and has escalated since the Bush-era tax cuts have been followed by large deficits. By failing to say which tax deductions would be eliminated, Ryan’s plan has left analysts to wonder whether that would lead to the end of the deduction for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, or other big-ticket items. Nor does the Ryan plan provide details about many spending cuts.”

“The Ryan budget would slash food stamps by $134 billion over 10 years, affecting 47 million recipients… A typical family of four could lose about $90 a month in food stamps…. At the same time, Ryan vows to protect defense spending. Indeed, if his plan is coupled with Romney’s vow to increase Pentagon dollars, there would be little or no room for nondefense spending outside of programs such as Social Security….”

What about Medicare? Eligibility goes from 65 to 67. Changes for those younger than 55 would take place beginning in 2023. There would be a voucher program that seniors could use to buy insurance in a private insurance marketplace, similar to the Obama health law exchange system, which would impact far fewer people, because most people already have health insurance through their companies. Obama’s exchange would only affect those without insurance who make too much to be on Medicaid. Ryan’s would affect anyone over 67.

Seniors would have the choice of staying with the “existing, fee-for-service system,” something Ryan did not offer under earlier versions.

And here’s the catch: “The risk is that if private competition in the Medicare marketplace did not hold down insurance costs, government vouchers — whose annual increases would be capped — could cease to cover plan premiums over time. In this case, more people would chose the traditional fee-for-service model and cost savings for the government would not materialize.”

And this little-known fact: “It aims to save $205 billion between 2013 and 2022, on top of the $700 billion in Medicare spending reductions contained in Obama’s national health care law. Though his plan calls for repeal of the health care law, Ryan would keep and expand Obama’s Medicare cuts, a departure from Romney’s plan to wipe out the law and his sharp criticism of the Medicare cuts.” And it would slash federal spending by $810 billion for Medicaid over just the next 10 years, much faster than Ryan’s proposal for Medicare. And there would no longer be the fee-for-service Medicaid system, instead it would be block-granted to states, who then could do whatever they wanted with the money.

The L.A. Times has its own breakdown of Ryan’s plan. Its chart of how much people would pay in taxes – it cuts for the rich, raises on the poor:

Top 1% - $155,808 cut
Top 20% - $13,907 cut
Middle 20% - $739 decrease
Next 20% - $149 decrease
Lowest 20% - $159 tax INCREASE

“Under Ryan's plan, which has passed the Republican-controlled House twice in slightly different versions, the Internal Revenue Service would tax the wealthiest Americans less, but many of the poorest ones more; Medicare would be transformed; Medicaid would be cut by about a third; and all functions of government other than those health programs, Social Security and the military would shrink to levels not seen since the 1930s,” it writes.

AP: “Mitt Romney says there may be differences between his own budget plan and running mate Paul Ryan's, but he isn’t volunteering any of them.”

Spending hypocrisy? “In 2009, as Representative Paul Ryan was railing against President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package as a ‘wasteful spending spree,’ he wrote at least four letters to Obama’s secretary of energy asking that millions of dollars from the program be granted to a pair of Wisconsin conservation groups, according to documents obtained by The Globe. The advocacy appeared to pay off; both groups were awarded the economic recovery funds — one receiving a $20 million grant to help thousands of local businesses and homes improve their energy efficiency, agency documents show. … The documents show that Ryan’s attempts to take advantage of the stimulus funds even after he voted against them was more expansive than previously reported.”

The Romney campaign did not comment this time around. When Ryan was first called out for this in 2010, a spokesman said: “If Congressman Ryan is asked to help a Wisconsin entity applying for existing federal grant funds, he does not believe flawed policy should get in the way of doing his job and providing a legitimate constituent service to his employers.”

“Mitt Romney held a campaign event Monday night at a Miami juice shop owned by a convicted cocaine trafficker,” AP writes, adding, “Appearing with Romney was Sen. Marco Rubio. Both men handed out juices to an excited crowd after brief remarks. Romney was filming a campaign ad at the juice shop, aides said.” The owner “told the Miami New Times that the Secret Service vetted everything about him when the Romney campaign asked to use his fruit and vegetable stand and that they knew about his criminal record. ‘Here in Miami there are a lot people with money who have had problems with the law,’ Bermudez told the New Times. ‘Thankfully, we all have the opportunity in this country to re-enter society when we've done something wrong.’”

He wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter a voting booth, though, if Romney had his way. “As a felon, [he] wouldn't be eligible to vote in Florida unless the governor and the Cabinet restore his rights.”