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The new Romney-Ryan team, looking for all the world like two people who had been partners for far more than 36 hours, moved swiftly Sunday to try to blunt Democratic lines of attack on the Republican ticket. The pair used an interview with CBS to insist it is President Obama – and not Rep. Paul Ryan through his dramatic budget plan – who is “robbing” Medicare and threatening the nation’s elderly.
In a joint 60 Minutes interview that was partially aired Sunday night on television and partially posted online, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his new running mate made clear they want to stop playing defense as Democrats mount withering attacks on the budget advanced by Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. The plan – em:braced by the conservative establishment and to some extent by Romney -- preserves the current Medicare system only for Americans older than 55. Younger people would purchase Medicare or private insurance with the help of capped vouchers that might not keep up with costs.
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Romney cast this as a noble act in the 60 Minutes interview with Bob Schieffer. “What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it's there for current seniors,” Romney said in a segment of the interview that was posted online. He stressed there would be “no changes… for current seniors, or those nearing retirement.” But he acknowledged big changes for those younger. He said Republicans are telling them, “We're going to give you a bigger choice.” He suggested that is the only way to “make Medicare work down the road.”
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While Ryan spoke, Romney looked on with a fatherly gaze at the 42-year-old suddenly thrust into a national race he himself had resisted entering last year when conservatives pushed him to go for the top spot. The two men, both tieless, were very much at ease with each other during the interview taped Sunday afternoon in a furniture factory in High Point, N.C. Their lapel flag pins matched and their patterned shirts came close to matching.
Their tax returns will also match. Ryan said he gave Romney “several years” of his tax returns. But he said he will be releasing to the public only two years, the same as Romney. He insisted the public does not want more. “They’re asking where the jobs are,” he said.
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In the Medicare segment, Ryan tried to personalize the issue. “My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida,” he told interviewer Bob Schieffer. “Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger.” He insisted that he is pushing “good reforms that have bipartisan origins.”
Romney also tried to turn the tables on the president, recalling the Medicare reforms that are part of Obama’s health care overhaul and stating pointedly, “There's only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare -- $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare.” The Obama campaign pointed out that Ryan’s budget includes most of the cuts that are in the new health law, which affect providers and private insurers but not beneficiaries.
As a further sign of how aggressive the GOP ticket will be in trying to deflect the Democratic attacks, Ryan will be campaigning next weekend in central Florida, repeating the Republican insistence that Obama cut Medicare because the new health law shrinks federal payments to the Medicare Advantage program.
One New England Republican operative who is close to Romney said the comfort level between the two men seen in the interview is a key to the surprise choice of Ryan over more senior – and safer – Republican officeholders. “The two wonks bonded during the Wisconsin primary and got even closer after,” said the strategist, who asked not to be named.
Romney basically confirmed this in explaining to Schieffer what drew him to pick Ryan. “This is a man who's also very analytical. He's a policy guy. People know him as a policy guy,” said Romney. “That's one of the reasons he has such respect on both sides of the aisle. I'm a policy guy, believe it or not. I love policy.”