On Wednesday, Romney accused President Obama of siphoning Medicare dollars to fund his 2010 health-care law, and he promised to restore that money if elected.
Obama countered that he has strengthened the Medicare program and that his Republican challenger would end it.
The back-and-forth worried Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that seeks an end to deficit spending. He said both candidates are undermining efforts to convince the public of the long-term need for Medicare reductions.
“I don’t think it’s off to a very good start, if what we’re looking for is a good, substantive debate on deficit reduction,” he said of the Ryan phase of the campaign. “There are good, legitimate debates we could have about the best way to control Medicare spending. But it quickly descends into charges of robbery and murder.”
Budget experts expect Medicare spending to balloon in the coming decades, as 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 and become eligible for benefits each day for the next 20 years. The program’s rapid growth is a leading driver behind the growth of the federal deficit.
A complex debate has been underway about how to provide seniors the care they need at a cost the government can afford.
But several deficit experts said they worry that the escalating campaign rhetoric about which side is seeking Medicare cuts will damage both parties’ ability to come up with a compromise to reduce costs.
“Everyone knows that Medicare in its current state is unsustainable. There’s not a serious person out there who argues otherwise,” said Steve Bell, economic policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “And we are now starting to have an emotional, distorted, propagandistic debate about it.”
The Democrats’ health-care law aims to curb Medicare spending by reducing payments to hospitals and other providers — not beneficiaries — in part as a trade for reducing hospitals’ costs by cutting millions from the ranks of the uninsured.
In the spending plan he authored as chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan proposed to end the health-care law. But he assumed the same cost reductions in Medicare spending as a way to reduce the deficit.
On Wednesday, Romney promised that if elected, he would restore the money to the program as a way to bolster it for current retirees.
“My commitment is, if I become president, I’m going to restore that $716 billion to the Medicare trust fund so that current seniors can know that trust fund is not being raided,” Romney said on CBS News’s “This Morning.”