At a campaign rally in Florida Monday evening, Mitt Romney told the crowd: "We will never go after Medicare and Social Security."
Romney's remark is already causing some conservatives to despair that he is throwing entitlement reform under the bus in order to pander to seniors. But the full context of the quotation doesn't make it seem nearly that bad. Here are Romney's full remarks on Medicare at Monday's rally in Florida:
"I understand a few of you here are on Medicare. Is that true? [Laughter]
"That being the case, I hope you tell your friends who always fear that Republicans somehow might go after Medicare. You can tell them a couple things. Number one: We will never go after Medicare or Social Security, we will protect those programs. But also, you make sure and tell them this. There's only one president in history that's cut Medicare 500 billion dollars. And that's Barack Obama. And guess what he did it for? He did it to pay for Obamacare?
"So if I'm president, I will protect Medicare and Social Security for those that are currently retired or near retirement, and I'll make sure we keep those programs solvent for the next generations coming along. We will protect America's seniors and America's young people with programs that are designed to keep them well and safe. And I will make sure that we protect Medicare and Social Security."
So this is far from a full-throated defense of Medicare reform. He nods toward reform for future generations by saying he'll protect the programs for "those that are currently retired or near retirement" and mentioning programs for young people that are "designed to keep them well and safe." But Romney would have done much better had he simply said "we will reform these programs to keep them solvent solvent for the next generations" rather than merely pledging to keep them solvent. And better yet, he could have even had a sentence about how the Wyden-Ryan Medicare reform--the outline of which Romney has, to his credit, already endorsed--would work.
But there isn't anything wrong with Romney calling out Obama for cutting Medicare or framing the issue as "protecting" Medicare rather than "going after" it. That's not only smart politics, it's objectively what Republicans are trying to do. See, for example, how Paul Ryan pushes back against Debbie Wasserman Schultz's demagoguery on Social Security and Medicare:
Some conservatives like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels have scolded fellow Republicans for playing the "granny card" against the Democrats who voted for Obamacare and its Medicare cuts. "I do not think it was a proud moment for the Republican Party at all," Daniels said in June. "Medicare is going to have to change. I have to say, the granny card has been played so cynically against Republicans so many times, that I can certainly understand the turnabout there. But it is not a grownup attitude."
But Ryan takes a different approach. When Democrats attack him for wanting to "privatize" Medicare, he counterpunches that Democrats are the ones who have slashed the program for current beneficiaries and want to impose a "rationing system"; he simply wants a free-market reform for those under 55.
"What I'm proposing is, make sure that we don't cut benefits to people in and near retirement, 55 and above," Ryan said during a debate on CNN last month with Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. "They just took $522 billion out of the Medicare fund to spend it on another government program. They are the ones who raided Medicare."
"What I'm saying is," Ryan continued, "let's get these programs solvent. If we don't fix this debt crisis and get ahead of it, Wolf, we will shred the social safety net that people have counted on. What I am trying to propose is something responsible, prevent cuts from hitting current seniors, people nearing retirement, and then reform these programs for those of us who are under 54, because we know they are going bankrupt, and put them on the path of solvency and sustainability."