Bam blasts, Mitt laughs

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President Obama launched a blistering attack Tuesday on Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” economic and fiscal plan and Mitt Romney’s embrace of it — and Romney responded that night by “hugging” Ryan even tighter.

What gives? Why isn’t the near-certain Republican nominee scared?

On Tuesday afternoon, Obama used his speech at The Associated Press to slam Ryan’s proposal — passed last week by House GOPers — and Romney’s strong support for it. The president even mocked Romney’s use of the word “marvelous” in praising the Ryan plan.

Obama then savaged Ryan’s “path” as “thinly veiled Social Darwinism” that’s “antithetical to our entire history.” Ryan and Romney would . . . wait for it . . . “end Medicare as we know it.”

Be afraid, seniors. Be very afraid.

Yet at the Romney victory celebration (for winning another three primaries) that evening in Milwaukee, the candidate had Ryan right up front on stage with him.

Romney even gave Ryan the honor (usually reserved for his wife, Ann Romney) of introducing him to supporters. When he took the mike, he called Ryan “a great leader.” Take that, Mr. President.

So why isn’t Romney terrified of Obama’s attempt to make Ryan his de facto running mate, or of the president’s “MediScare” offensive?

Such fear-mongering has been a winning Democratic tactic in the past. But maybe Team Romney figures it has watched Obama give it his best shot with that speech — and come up empty.

After all, there are few things more cringe-inducing than watching a politician repeat talking points that are long past their expiration date. Obama offered nothing but a helping of moldy, MSNBC-quality spin so distorted that it had almost nothing to do with what the Ryan Republicans are actually proposing.

"Fear-mongering has been a winning Democratic tactic in the past. But maybe Team Romney figures it has watched Obama give it his best shot with that speech — and come up empty." -- James Pethokoukis

End Medicare as we know it? C’mon. Ryan would gradually raise Medicare spending as a share of GDP from today’s 3.25 percent to 4.75 percent by 2050. And he’d keep traditional Medicare as one option on which future seniors could spend their Medicare premium-support dollars.

But Ryan also expects there to be private options offering the same benefits as Medicare in a more cost-effective way, because insurers would compete for seniors’ business. Competition leads to innovation, which leads to higher productivity and more value. That’s a good thing, if you believe in free enterprise.

Obama also implies the premium-support payment would fail to keep up with rising health-care costs, leaving seniors short. But the new payment system itself would help hold down costs: Medicare Part D has been operating on that model for nearly a decade now — and its costs are about 40 percent below the projections at the time it was enacted in 2003.

Indeed, competitive bidding has already helped Medicare cut how much it pays for durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs.

It’s also pathetic for the president to rip Ryan’s attempt to limit the growth of Medicare spending to the same level that Obama himself promises.

Ryan wants it held to the growth rate of the overall economy, plus 0.5 percent; that’s exactly the same rate Obama says his bureaucratic cost-controls (under the ObamaCare law) would produce. (For the record, the Congressional Budget Office is exceedingly doubtful that Obama’s rationing plan can deliver.)

The rest of Obama’s speech was no better or more accurate. For instance, he predictably and perfunctorily hammered Republicans for wanting to cut tax rates for wealthier Americans. Not only does the class-warfare pitch leave out how Romney would cut rates for all Americans — including US corporations, which as of April 1 pay the highest tax rate among advanced economies — but also that Romney would at the same time scale back tax breaks so that wealthier Americans would pay the same total share of income taxes.

It would sure be incredibly convenient for Obama if his Republican opponent were really proposing to cancel Medicare and cut taxes only for millionaires and billionaires. Even the Democrats’ all-time loser consultant, Bob Shrum, could win that campaign. But that’s not the reality in 2012.

Maybe someone should tell Obama’s speechwriters.

James Pethokoukis is a columnist at AEI and a CNBC contributor.

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