Speaking in Charlotte on Wednesday, Republican Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of cutting Medicare – as each campaign charged the other with attempting to dismantle the federal health care program.
The Medicare debate has raged since Romney named as his running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of a plan that would dramatically change the system.
Even before the former Massachusetts governor arrived at the Duke Mansion in Myers Park around 2 p.m., his supporters told reporters that Obama would “end Medicare as we know it.”
Obama used the same language in describing Ryan’s plan Wednesday. And Democrats made automated telephone calls to voters in 50 congressional districts, including three in North Carolina, linking Republican candidates with Ryan’s plan.
Romney addressed Medicare in remarks to a NASCAR-flavored fundraising audience that included GOP national chairman Reince Priebus and more than 115 supporters who paid up to $50,000.
“The president did something which hasn’t received a lot of media attention,” Romney said, according to a pool press report. “To pay for Obamacare he had to look around for places to get money. He cut Medicare funding. And as seniors hear this, they’re going to be angry.”
Democrats countered that it’s Ryan’s plan that would cripple Medicare, the government health program for those over 65.
The end of Medicare?
Earlier Wednesday, leaders of N.C. Women for Mitt sought to turn the attack on Democrats.
“President Obama cannot run based on the dismal health care plan that he has,” said Aldona Wos, a retired physician and former U.S. ambassador.
Like other Republicans, she argued Obama’s 2010 health care act would cut more than $700 billion from Medicare.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Medicare spending would be reduced by that much under Obama’s plan. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, those reductions would phase in over 10 years and affect mostly hospitals, health insurers, home health and other providers – not beneficiaries.
Kaiser says the Ryan plan calls for the same reductions. His plan also would change benefits for those now under 55. The government would provide a set amount of money with which people could either get a private health plan or a government-run system.
According to the CBO, benefits would likely shrink while the number of uninsured would rise because the plan repeals Obama’s healthcare law.
Campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, Obama defended his position on Medicare.
“I have strengthened Medicare,” he said, saying his administration proposed “reforms that will not touch your Medicare benefits, not by a dime.” He said Romney and Ryan wanted to “turn Medicare into a voucher program” while his approach had extended the life of Medicare by a decade.
“Their plan ends Medicare as we know it,” Obama said.
As he left the Charlotte fundraiser, Republican Robert Pittenger, who’s running in the 9th Congressional District, defended Ryan’s plan.
“Republicans will save Medicare with options for those under 55,” he said, “ while those above 55 years have no change in the present program.”
‘Diminishing the presidency’
Inside the mansion, NASCAR CEO Brian France introduced Romney. Guests included NASCAR notables Bruton Smith, CEO of Charlotte Motor Speedway, driver Kurt Busch and team owners Felix Sabates and Rick Hendrick. The event brought in a reported $1.5 million.
Though no local reporters were allowed inside, a press pool report described Romney’s comments.
Romney alluded to Tuesday’s controversial comments by Vice President Joe Biden, who told a largely African-American audience in Virginia that Romney was going to put them “back in chains.”
“I said yesterday, I think the president is diminishing the presidency and the comments yesterday by the vice president, this takes the White House another level lower,” Romney said. “ I happen to think the president will do or say anything to get elected. I don’t think it’s going to work.”
He also told anecdotes about people he’d met on the campaign trail, including a coal miner with tears in his eyes who said, “I’m counting on you to have a job.”
After speaking, the candidate posed for pictures and even held a roundtable for those who paid the higher ticket prices to meet him.
Around 3:30, he waved at a few shouting supporters across the street and ducked into the black SUV that carried him away.
By that time, protesters had gone. A group of about 50 protesters from Action NC other groups had gathered waving signs and chanted slogans opposing the ticket.
Ending ‘class warfare’
Carolyn Rogers-Stone said she drove from Durham to protest the effect that she said Republican budget and tax proposals would have on low- and middle-income families.
“My biggest complaint is that (Romney and Ryan) have no empathy, sympathy or common sense,” she said. “When you’re very affluent, you don’t have to worry about your next meal, a roof over your head or your medical bills.”
But a smaller group of Romney backers showed up with their own signs. One was Sarah Reinecke, a 42-year-old Charlotte accountant.
“I don’t feel there’s a lot I can do except show my support for the team that’s going to bring the country together and end class warfare,” she said.
The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press contributed.