President Barack Obama charged Wednesday that Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are looking to slash Medicare benefits while leveling "dishonest" attacks accusing him of doing the same thing.
"They are just throwing everything at the wall to see if it sticks," Obama told a rowdy crowd of supporters in Dubuque on the third and final day of a bus tour through Iowa.
The president said his approach had "strengthened Medicare" and added 10 years to the program's lifespan, even as it enacts "reforms that will not touch your Medicare benefits, not by a dime."
"My plan's already extended Medicare by nearly a decade. Their plan ends Medicare as we know it," he charged. "My plan reduces the cost of Medicare by cracking down on fraud, and waste, and subsidies to insurance companies. Their plan makes seniors pay more so they can give another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires."
"That's the difference between our plans on Medicare. That's an example of the choice in this election," the president said. Romney's camp has accused Obama of slashing Medicare by $716 billion, in part to pay for his landmark health care law, popularly known as Obamacare. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus charged in an op-ed published Wednesday that Obama "is the only candidate in this race willing to let Medicare die."
Obama's camp has countered that his cuts won't shrink benefits but, rather, target waste. (It notably cuts reimbursement rates for hospitals, drugmakers and insurers, while predicting that an influx of new patients will make up for losses.) And it has underlined that the House Republicans' budget, crafted by Ryan, not only embraces those reductions but envisions shifting the popular program to a voucherlike system that could see elderly patients paying more out-of-pocket costs.
Both sides are grappling with Medicare's ballooning share of federal spending, fueled by an aging population and costly advances in health care. Republicans have pointed out that Obama previously denounced political grandstanding on the issue—only to turn to it in the aftermath of Romney's pick of Ryan as his running mate.
The issue has particular political resonance among elderly voters, who are critical to the outcome in vital battleground states like Florida.
First lady Michelle Obama, reunited with her husband for his last day in Iowa, introduced the president and told the crowd, "It all boils down to who you are and what you stand for. And we all know who my husband is, don't we?"
"Your president knows what it means when a family struggles," she said, to cheers from the crowd. That echoed Obama campaign arguments that Romney's wealth has left him out of touch with average Americans.
"I am just reminded how lucky I am, because she is a woman of strength, and integrity and honor," the president said of his wife. "She is the best mom in the world—and she's cute!"
"I do think she is a perfect first lady," he said, noting that Michelle Obama planned to go pick up daughters Sasha and Malia "from sleep-away camp."
The president also recalled how Iowans propelled his unlikely 2008 bid for the White House.
"Every stop, I've got fond memories of the last campaign," he said. "This is where our movement for change happened."
"I've come here to ask you to stand with me, just like you stood with me in 2008, to finish what we started," he said, to cheers from the crowd of about 3,000. "Iowa, I'm gonna need your help one more time here."
Obama began his day with breakfast at Riley's Cafe and Catering in Cedar Rapids with three veterans, Amanda Irish, Jake Krapfl and Terry Philips. He also visited Cascade High School.