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Medicare scrum: Romney hits Gingrich, Dems hit Romney

Mitt Romney is getting pounded on the issue he’s using to pound Newt Gingrich.

Got that?

The issue is Medicare. And the artillery being shelled in all directions illustrates the precarious spot Romney, still the GOP frontrunner as far as Democrats are concerned, has found himself in.

For days now as Romney’s campaign has ratcheted up its attack on Gingrich, it has striven to assert that Romney is a reliable, hard-core conservative and not the spasmodic idea generator that Gingrich’s detractors paint him as.

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The fulcrum for the argument has been the budget blueprint crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and passed by the House earlier this year. The budget, which would radically reduce the scope of government, starve it of revenues, and reform Medicare into a private insurance system known as a premium-support plan, has become a sort of litmus test in some circles on the purity of one’s conservatism.

On Friday, the Romney campaign was at it again, releasing a web video that celebrates Ryan as a Republican hero and replaying Gingrich’s remarks last spring on “Meet the Press” in which he derided the Ryan plan as “right-wing social engineering.” (Watch video below.)

Here’s the problem. While the Ryan budget may be popular in some Republican circles, it faces considerably more hostility from voters at large, who bend over backward to tell pollster after pollster that they like their Medicare the way it is.

Which means that the more Mitt Romney goes on the record giving Ryan and his budget a bear-hug, the more Democratic operatives and the Obama reelection machine like it. And indeed, Romney supporter John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and White House aide, seemed to suggest that Romney and Ryan have mind-melded on entitlement reform in a call with reporters this week.

“Mitt Romney had his own package of entitlement reform, which Paul Ryan has praised. They both meshed together. They are both based on really understanding entitlement reform,” Sununu said.

Romney’s own healthcare reform plan (which involves, yes, repealing the Democratic healthcare overhaul, he says) also involves reshaping Medicare to add a private insurance option, but he also has suggested he would preserve the government-run system for seniors. The closer he draws then to sounding like the Ryan plan is his plan, the more he may risk exposing himself to attack during a general election contest with Obama. And Democratic advocacy groups have been filling the inboxes of political reporters all week making sure that message is loud and clear.

As for Gingrich, you might recall that he tried to quiet the furor his anti-Ryan remarks ignited by walking back from them to some degree and then making nice with Ryan himself. He even went so far to suggest that quoting him on his “Meet the Press” appearance would be tantamount to misrepresentation, warning that “any ad” using his words “is a falsehood.”

At the time, Gingrich was likely talking about Democratic attack ads. As it turns out, however, it appears Romney was the one he needed to worry about.

Watch the Romney ad here:


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