Aug. 20, 2012— -- Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are trying to turn the tables on President Obama, making what Democrats had thought was a weakness -- their Medicare plan -- into a strength in the presidential race.
Since Ryan was introduced as Romney's running mate on the presumptive GOP ticket, all the talk of the campaign has been about Medicare, not the economy.
That's because the Democrats tried to use the Wisconsin congressman's plan to overhaul Medicare, essentially turning it into a voucher program for seniors to buy their own health insurance, to undermine support for Romney.
But now, with the Republican National Convention just a week away, Romney, Ryan and their surrogates are using Medicare to hammer Obama, focusing on a $716 billion cut in funding for the program that was part of the Affordable Care Act.
Ryan included those same cuts in his signature budget plan -- the same plan Romney has said he would sign if he becomes president -- but Ryan says he was forced to build his plan on those cuts because they were already signed into law.
The $716 billion in cuts to Medicare in the Affordable Care Act do not affect benefits for seniors. Instead, they reduce provider reimbursements and are intended to curb waste, fraud and abuse, but that has not stopped the GOP attacks.
"Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank for 'Obamacare," Ryan said Saturday in a speech at The Villages, Fla., the nation's largest retirement community. "Medicare should be used to be the promise that it made to our current seniors. Period. End of story."
Obama himself acknowledged the strategy.
"I guess they figure the best defense is to try to go on offense," he said Saturday in New Hampshire.
Romney's top advisor said the president is right, and added that it seems to be working.
"This is first election cycle I can remember in a long time where Democrats are on the defensive because of Medicare," Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said today on CNN's "State of the Union."
If they can convince voters that the president's health care plan is the one that is threatening Medicare, not Ryan's, they could effectively neutralize some of the concerns about whether the addition of the conservative Wisconsin congressman to the ticket might alienate centrist independent voters.
"They're trying to neutralize the negatives while accentuating the positive parts of the Ryan budget and the Ryan plan, which is this is forward looking, it's bold," ABC News Political Director Amy Walter said. "They want to go into Tampa on their toes. And then to pivot from that offense on to the broader argument, which is this is a referendum on President Obama's handling of the economy."
But Obama hasn't exactly gone on the defensive about his Medicare approach, instead keeping up the attacks on the Republicans' plan.
"What they want to do is they want seniors to get a voucher to buy their own insurance, which could force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year for their health care," he said Saturday in New Hampshire.
And he found a new line of criticism of Ryan's economic proposals, taking a swipe at his plan from 2010 that would have eliminated capital gains taxes altogether.
"He put forward a plan that would let Governor Romney pay less than 1 percent in taxes each year," the president said. "And here's the kicker -- he expects you to pick up the tab."