White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged the need to further reform the Medicare program to cut costs but said today that presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's plans to partially privatize the health care entitlement are the wrong way to go.
"We need to make additional reforms that protect beneficiaries but make sure Medicare remains in place as Medicare, not a voucher system, for future generations," Carney said. Carney said President Barack Obama's health care overhaul already extended the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight years - although that would be double-counting the $716 billion squeezed out of the program. Carney also cited the positions of the powerful seniors lobby AARP, which has endorsed Obama's law and panned the budget of Romney's newly minted running mate, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.).
"The president's Affordable Care Act, according to the AARP ... strengthens and protects Medicare," Carney said.
More broadly, Carney said there needs to be a balanced plan to reduce the deficit. But he didn't go into details.
Carney also accused the Romney campaign of trying to distract from policy issues by playing up remarks by Vice President Joseph Biden that the GOP ticket would put people back in "chains" after repealing the administration's Wall Street financial reforms.
Carney said that when one side "begins to distract attention from the policy debates ... that is invariably because that side is losing the policy debate."
Carney also accused Romney and Ryan of "voucherizing" Medicare and cutting federal investments in education, transportation and the like to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy instead of reducing the deficit. That's why Ryan's plan doesn't balance the budget for about 30 years, Carney said.
Obama, however, has never proposed a plan that would balance the budget under any time frame.
Romney and Ryan have said they would protect seniors' benefits and that their plans to remake Medicare would only affect people now younger than 55 and take effect a decade from now.
Romney, meanwhile, has kept his budget platform extremely vague - declining to give much detail on which programs he would cut and which tax breaks he would nix to fulfill promises to shrink the deficit while cutting tax rates.
With the president meeting with Biden for lunch today, several questions were asked about Biden's remark, and Carney dismissed them, saying that it is clear that Biden was talking about regulation of Wall Street.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.