Mitt Romney told a Florida crowd Monday he and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wanted to "preserve and protect Medicare" as Democrats seized on his vice presidential candidate's reform proposal to claim Republicans would increase healthcare costs for seniors.
The debate is likely to become a focal point of the presidential election, with Florida's 29 electoral votes — and powerful senior voting bloc — crucial to winning the White House.
"The president's idea for Medicare was to cut it by $700 billion," Romney said. "That's not the right answer. We need to make sure we can preserve and protect Medicare."
Romney also defended Ryan, arguing that the seven-term lawmaker had "attacked problems" in Washington that needed to be addressed.
"He's come up with ideas that are very good," Romney said.
The Obama campaign quickly issued a statement blasting Romney's characterization of the cuts to Medicare under the administration — noting that the Ryan budget included the same shift.
“Mitt Romney’s not telling the truth about the Medicare savings in the health reform law," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. "The Ryan budget that Mitt Romney promised to sign into law includes the very same savings that Romney attacked today in Florida — savings that include eliminating subsidies to insurance companies, cutting waste and fraud, and reforming delivery systems to help keep seniors healthy."
Smith also attacked Ryan's proposal to shift Medicare to a voucher program, arguing it would increase healthcare costs for seniors.
"The truth is that the Romney-Ryan budget would end Medicare as we know it by pushing seniors into the private market and raising their health care costs by thousands of dollars per year," Smith said. "It’s unfortunate that Mitt Romney would rather distort the truth than have an honest debate about the devastating impact the Romney-Ryan plan would have on Florida’s seniors.”
During an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Ryan defended his Medicare proposal.
"My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida," Ryan said. "Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger."
Romney will travel to Miami later Monday, where he is expected to hold an afternoon campaign event with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).