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The Medicare message war is on: Romney goes on air hitting Obama for cuts


In an apparent effort to preempt attacks from Democrats on newly minted vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's plan to overhaul Medicare, the Romney campaign is going on air in "targeted markets" hitting President Obama on the subject.

With a close up of a senior citizen growing tighter, an announcer says, "You've paid into Medicare for years. Every paycheck. Now that you need it, Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare. Why? To pay for 'ObamaCare.' So now the money you paid in for guaranteed health care is going into a massive new government program that's not for you. The Romney-Ryan plan protects Medicare benefits for today's seniors. And strengthens the plan for the next generation."

The ad's implication through images, though carefully worded, is that current Medicare beneficiaries would be affected by the cuts to growth. That's not the case. 

As Politifact wrote:

"In a few cases, the law increased Medicare spending to provide more benefits and coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation..... For instance, the health care law added money to cover preventive services and to fill a gap for enrollees who purchase prescription drugs through the Medicare Part D program. (That coverage gap is sometimes called the doughnut hole). Other provisions are designed to reduce future growth in Medicare spending, to encourage the program to operate more efficiently and to improve the delivery and quality of care in ways including reducing hospital re-admissions. The law does not take money out of the current Medicare budget but, rather, attempts to slow the program's future growth, curtailing just over $500 billion [now revised up to $716 billion] in anticipated spending increases over the next 10 years. Medicare spending will still increase, however. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects Medicare spending will reach $929 billion in 2020, up from $499 billion in actual spending in 2009.

"So as we said then, and repeated several times since, the health care law reduces the amount of future spending growth in Medicare. But it doesn't cut Medicare."

Ryan’s budget, in fact, assumes the same $700 billion in Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act -- something Romney distanced himself from last night.

The ad also alludes to a "Romney-Ryan plan," but there has not been anything new released on Medicare policy, in particular, from the Romney campaign since Ryan was picked Saturday.

The ad has shades of what the Obama campaign did to John McCain in 2008.

First Read wrote Oct. 17, 2008, just two weeks before the election:

"Returning to the issue of health care, Obama used his seventh trip to Virginia in the general election to criticize McCain for proposals that he said would result in $882 billion in cuts to Medicare. ... The McCain campaign sent reporters a memo called 'The Truth About Barack Obama's Lies About The McCain Health Care Plan,' in which his senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said McCain's health-care plan would not result in a tax increase for "millions of families" and said the Arizona senator would reduce Medicare spending by billions without cutting benefits, eligibility, or both as Obama's latest ad argues."

Because of Obama's similarly misleading attacks on McCain's health plan in 2008, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus seemed to make this point on The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd -- too bad.

"It’s the same definition that Barack Obama used in describing what John McCain wanted to do in 2008," Priebus said, "so if he doesn’t like the term stole or raid from Medicare to pay for something else, he shouldn’t have used it in 2008."

In Paul Ryan's first interview today -- on FOX -- he claimed, "We're the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare. We're the ones who are not raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare. We're the ones who are repealing President Obama's 15-person bureaucratic board that will put price controls on Medicare that will lead to denied care for current seniors. We're the ones continuing the guarantee of Medicare for people in or near retirement. And you haev to reform it for the younger generation in order to make the commitment stick for the current generation. 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."

The Romney campaign, by pushing the $700 billion in cuts talking point, have been able to keep much of the focus off of what Ryan's plan -- and, more importantly, the candidate at the top of the ticket -- would actually do. First Read highlighted what Ryan's plan does in detail here and on also in a spot on NBC Nightly News last night.

The message war on Medicare is on. Republicans clearly know they have a fight on their hands. They have signaled how they will make the case -- and are confident in their readiness to do battle. Democrats seemed to revel in Ryan being picked. Now, their challenge is how they respond.

NBC's Alex Moe contributed to this report.