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Romney struggles to get square with Ryan's Medicare plan

MIAMI – Stumping here on Monday, Mitt Romney told reporters he couldn’t think of how he differs from running mate Paul Ryan when it comes to their views on Medicare.

“We haven’t gone through piece by piece and said, ‘Oh, here’s a place where there’s a difference,’” Romney said of his running mate’s plan. “But my plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan, which is ‘Do not change the program for current retirees or near-retirees but do not do what the president has done and that is to cut $700 billion out of the current program.”

Sustaining Medicare, the government’s health care program for seniors, will likely become a central issue in this election campaign – particularly because Ryan, the House budget committee chairman, crafted a controversial plan that analysts say would increase costs for low-income and unhealthy seniors down the road.

Romney was less committal Monday than he was in January, when he said during a debate that Ryan’s Medicare reform plan was “absolutely right on.” Instead, he said that he and Ryan agreed on the main points – and that he planned to restore the $700 billion cut from Medicare under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Ryan's Medicare plan and his budget: What's in them for you?

There’s a hitch, however: Ryan’s budget makes the same $700 billion in Medicare cuts as the Obama plan. CNBC's Scott Cohn explains:

“The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – does cut the growth of Medicare by $700 billion over 10 years. But benefits to seniors actually increase under Obamacare, which reduces payments to providers in exchange for more people covered by insurance. What’s more, the Ryan plan – approved by the House – cuts Medicare spending every bit as much as Obamacare does. In fact, it incorporates the very same budget projections, even as it repeals Obamacare. That’s what you call having it both ways.”

Faced with questions about Ryan's support for these cuts, the Romney campaign clarified its position Monday evening and disagreed with those cuts.

"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have always been fully committed to repealing Obamacare, ending President Obama’s $716 billion raid on Medicare, and tackling the serious fiscal challenges our country faces," Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director, said in a statement. "A Romney-Ryan Administration will restore the funding to Medicare, ensure that no changes are made to the program for those 55 or older, and implement the reforms that they have proposed to strengthen it for future generations."

At his last event of the day here in Miami, Romney did not mention Medicare or Obama’s health care reform, focusing instead on economic issues. But when Paul Ryan comes to Florida, where retirees make up a sizable part of the population, it would be safe to assume that Medicare reform will once again take center stage.