Dueling ads: A Medicare debate, or a budget debate?

CBS

Was the vote for Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget proposal about cutting the deficit or transforming Medicare? It depends on who you ask.

With the latest round of ads, both Democrats and Republicans are now attacking each other over the vote for Ryan's budget plan. The parties, however, are framing the vote entirely differently.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the Ryan budget bill, the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching robocalls against 13 Democrats who voted against all of the five budget bills that recently were up for a vote in the House.

"Last year, while families were tightening their belts, Larry Kissell and Nancy Pelosi failed to pass a budget, and Washington Democrats continued to spend your money recklessly," says the robocall targeting Rep. Larry Kissell of North Carolina. "Last week, Kissell refused to vote for any of the five budget proposals that cut spending. Some plans cut a little, some plans cut a lot - Kissell rejected all of them. Keeping us deeper in debt to China."

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) is not only the target of a robocall but also of a radio ad that will play in his district for three weeks with roughly the same script.

Neither the robocalls nor the radio ad mention anything specifically about Ryan's budget -- the only one of the five budget bills that the House approved, though no Democrats supported it and some Republicans opposed it.

That's quite a different tack from Democrats, who have zeroed in on the controversial part of Ryan's plan that would transform Medicare into a voucher system for private health insurance in 10 years. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads against 25 Republicans, saying, "hands off our Medicare," while Republican House members running for the Senate are also feeling the heat from opponents of the plan. Ryan's Democratic challenger even launched the website HandsOffMyGrandma.com.

Now Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul in New York is running the first official campaign ad that attacks a Republican for supporting Ryan's plan.

Hochul, a county clerk in upstate New York, is running against Republican state assemblywoman Jane Corwin to fill the seat left vacant by Republican Rep. Chris Lee's resignation. The special election is less than a month away, and Hochul has a new ad blasting Corwin for saying she would have voted for Ryan's budget. (Watch the ad above.)

"Jane Corwin said she would vote for the 2012 Republican budget that would essentially end Medicare," a narrator says in the ad. "Seniors would have to pay $6,400 more for the same coverage. But the plan Jane Corwin supports would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans."

The different focus from the two parties shouldn't be surprising. A CBS News/New York Times poll last week showed that Americans are wary about making changes to Medicare. A new poll out today from USA Today and Gallup confirms that -- but it also shows that Republicans hold a 12-percentage-point edge over Democrats as the party better able to handle the budget.

Republicans are awarethat proposing dramatic changes to Medicare is a politically risky move. But they're banking on the calculation that voters will respond to aggressive deficit reduction plans -- plus the fact that President Obama's plans for Medicare reform also include some ideas that could be controversial.

"Democrats are the ones scared and desperate which is why they have stooped to scare tactics, demagoguery and false attacks to cover up a budget that keeps borrowing from China and a Medicare plan that puts a bureaucrat in between seniors and their doctor, cuts Medicare benefits and raises taxes," said Joanna Burgos, a spokesperson for the NRCC. "Americans recognize that Republicans are the ones who flipped the debate in Washington from one of borrowing more to spend recklessly to one of cutting spending and job growth."

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