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Mitt Romney's Astoundingly Cynical Medicare Strategy

The Romney campaign is pushing back hard against accusations that Paul Ryan, and by extension Romney himself, are threatening Medicare. And they're recycling an old, discredited attack line to do it.

The real assault on Medicare, according to Romney and his allies, comes from President Obama, because the Affordable Care Act calls for $700 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade. Here's Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus making that argument on NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning:

He stole $700 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare. If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare, it's Barack Obama. He's the one that's destroying Medicare.

Capturing the cynicism on display here isn't easy. I'm going to try anyway. 

Yes, the Affordable Care Act includes substantial cuts to Medicare. But Ryan's own budget, which nearly every House Republican voted to pass and which Romney has said he would sign as president, leaves those cuts in place and uses them to finance other priorities.  In other words, the Romney campaign is attacking a proposal that Romney and his allies endorse.

The most significant difference between the two sides, at least for the short- to medium-term, is how they handle the savings these cuts generate. Obamacare puts the money back into the pockets of people who need help with their medical bills. A portion of the money is earmarked for children and non-elderly Americans, who, starting in 2014, will become eligible for Medicaid or receive tax credits to offset the cost of private insurance. A smaller, but still significant, portion of the money is for seniors. It helps them pay for prescription drugs, by filling the "donut hole" in Medicare Par D coverage. It also eliminates out-of-pocket costs for annual wellness visits, some cancer screenings, and other preventative services. Those benefits have actually started already: In the first six months of this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 16 million seniors took advantage of the free preventative care provision.

Ryan's budget—which, again, Romney has repeatedly embraced and said he would sign—actually takes those new benefits away. The Part D donut hole would open back up. Access to free preventative care would vanish. And where would Ryan and Romney put the money instead? They say it's for deficit reduction. I'd say it's really for their big new tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy. If somebody is "stealing" from seniors here, it's not Obama.

The two sides have each proposed additional changes to Medicare, the most significant of which would start to take effect a decade from now. They represent very different approaches to health care policy and are worthy of a serious, honest debate. But it's hard to have that kind of discussion when one side cares so little about presenting the facts accurately.

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