President Obama, speaking at a retirement community in West Palm Beach,… (Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach…)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Obama broadened his attack on Mitt Romney on Thursday, using Medicare to draw a sharper contrast on key issues in this swing state.
With an eye on seniors, Obama warned that Romney would undermine their federal healthcare entitlement program. In a speech after the early-bird dinner at a retirement community, he linked the program's fate to Romney's position on taxes, building on his campaign's assertion that Romney would "end Medicare as we know it to help pay for his tax cuts for the wealthiest."
"How many people here think that's a good idea, to finance tax cuts for folks who don't need them and weren't even asking for them?" Obama asked the crowd.
"Florida, that is wrong. It's wrong to ask you to pay more for Medicare so that people who are doing well right now get even more."
Romney's campaign countered that it was Obama who would "end Medicare as we know it."
"He has offered no serious plan of his own to save Medicare and is content to use it as nothing more than a political issue," said Lanhee Chen, Romney's policy director.
Romney campaigned in Roxbury, Mass., where he cited a comment by a presidential spokesman that Obama had not met with his jobs council in six months because he has "got a lot on his plate." Romney accused the president of being more concerned with his reelection than the nation's economic woes.
"He has done 106 fundraisers" since his last meeting with his jobs council, Romney said. "So I think you learn something about the president's priorities. The job he's interested in protecting is his own."
He also repeated his charge that Obama doesn't respect the role of entrepreneurs in America. Obama fails to understand "what it is that makes America such a unique nation," Romney said. "It's because this is the land of opportunity."
Last Friday, Obama said while campaigning in Virginia that people who build successful businesses benefit from the help of others, including schoolteachers and workers who build roads that carry goods. Republicans have seized on a line from that speech — "If you're a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
"It wasn't a gaffe," Romney said. "It was instead his ideology."
"The president does in fact believe that people who build enterprises like this really aren't responsible for it, but in fact it's a collective success of the whole society that somehow builds enterprises like this," Romney said, speaking to reporters at a truck repair shop.
The president's discussion of Medicare marks a return to shooting at the budget plan designed by Rep. Paul D. Ryan(R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman. The "Ryan budget" was at the heart of Obama's first major speech targeting Romney in April, just as the Republican had secured his hold on his party's nomination.
Ryan is believed to be among the handful of Republicans Romney is considering as his running mate. Even if Ryan does not end up on the ticket, Democrats hope that Romney's embrace of his budget plan, which would significantly alter Medicare, will provide a powerful weapon for them. Ryan's budget would give seniors vouchers to shop for insurance rather than use the existing program. Critics say that could cost seniors more.
"In a general election in Florida, about 60% of the electorate is senior citizens," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents parts of South Florida and also serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. "There's a lot of things that you can do, but you darn well better not support cutting Medicare benefits and pulling that safety net out from under our seniors."
The president used the same lines on Medicare earlier in a lunch-hour speech before a crowd of about 3,000 in Jacksonville. But before that heavily African American crowd, Obama also sought to reignite enthusiasm among his core supporters by recalling his last campaign.
"I see myself in you," the president said. "Your grandparents remind me of my grandparents. When I see your kids, I think about my kids. And so I have kept that promise, Florida. I've been fighting for you, and I keep believing in you. "
The area's congresswoman, speaking before Obama, led the crowd in repeating the refrain: "President Barack Obama, we have your back."
Memoli reported from West Palm Beach and Mehta from Roxbury, Mass.