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Campaign battle focuses on Ryan's Medicare redesign

The day after Mitt Romney’s selection of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, it was clear in the debate on Sunday talk shows that Ryan’s plan to redesign Medicare for future retirees will be a primary focus of the campaign.

In comments on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Ryan’s plan was far preferable to what President Barack Obama had done and would do to Medicare.

Going on the counter-offensive, Priebus said “If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare, it’s Barack Obama. He’s the one who is destroying Medicare; we are the ones that are offering solutions” to preserve Medicare benefits for people who are at or near retirement age and to make the program fiscally sustainable for future taxpayers.

He alleged that Obama “stole $700 billion out of Medicare to fund European health care. We can go down that route, or we can put solutions on the table to big problems and have a debate.”

According to analyses by the Congressional Budget Office and the chief Medicare actuary, Obama’s health care overhaul will reduce future Medicare spending by between $400 billion and $600 billion in its first ten years. The Medicare provisions in the Affordable Care Act are designed to squeeze savings out of Medicare by pressing hospitals, hospices and other providers to become more efficient and by reducing spending on Medicare Advantage plans.

Ryan’s Medicare reform would gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age to 67. The phased-in increase in the eligibility age would start in 2023. Ryan’s proposal would also do away with Medicare’s open-ended payments for those born in 1958 and later. The Ryan Medicare plan would not apply to those now receiving Medicare benefits.

And Ryan has partnered with one democrat. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, in offering proposals to restructure Medicare by offering seniors a choice of different insurance plans and forcing plans to compete with each other in an attempt to achieve greater efficiency.

Priebus argued that, “If we go down the road this president wants to go down… Medicare will be changed forever: it will be bankrupt by 2024. Medicare is going broke. Every person in America watching this now knows that that’s true.”

Asked whether Romney embraces Ryan’s Medicare redesign plan, Priebus said the GOP presidential contender “appreciates and admires” what Ryan has proposed, but “Mitt Romney has his own plans.”

David Axelrod, the Obama campaign political strategist, told NBC’s David Gregory on Meet the Press that Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate “clarifies the choice” for voters to Obama’s benefit because Ryan is so clearly defined by his calls for reducing future spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits.

Asked about Newt Gingrich’s comment when he was running for the GOP presidential nomination last year that Ryan’s Medicare design was “right-wing social engineering,” Axelrod said “I believe what Newt Gingrich said on your program. I believe it’s right-wing social engineering. I don’t believe they (Ryan and Romney) believe in that (Medicare) program”

He charged that the Romney campaign is “trying to distance themselves” from Ryan’s Medicare proposal.

He also contended that Ryan “rubber-stamped every aspect of the (George W.) Bush economic policy” from 2001 to 2008, including tax cuts, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a huge expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs, an expansion whose cost wasn’t offset by any increase in tax revenues.

But Priebus contended that Ryan’s boldness in taking on Medicare redesign and his frankness in discussing America’s fiscal challenges aren’t liabilities with voters, but advantages. “What America is starving for is not only people of their word to run for office but they’re hungering for people to govern like they campaigned.”

What Romney’s choice of Ryan proves, Priebus said, “is that Mitt Romney is willing to govern like he’s campaigned. It’s not enough to win, but we have to fix the problems that are facing this country.

Romney and Ryan are spending Sunday campaigning in Mooresville, and High Point, North Carolina and in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  Then Romney will had to Florida for campaigning on Monday while Ryan will split off and go to Iowa for a stop at the state fair in Des Moines. Romney campaign strategists say that Wisconsin and the other Great Lake states are now much more in play with Ryan on the ticket.

President George W. Bush nearly won Wisconsin in 2004 – losing to John Kerry by only 11,000 votes out of nearly 3 million total votes cast -- but Obama won it in 2008 with 56 percent of the vote.

In an interview on Meet the Press Sunday, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin told Gregory that Ryan “has tremendous appeal to swing voters and independent voters in states like Wisconsin that are battleground states because he’s smart and he’s bold, but he listens and he relates well to voters all across the political spectrum. I think this (choice of Ryan) is a game changer and I think it shows just how courageous Mitt Romney is not just with this choice, but how courageous he’s willing to be to take on our fiscal and economic crises here in America….”

NBC's Garrett Haake contributed to this report.