The Mitt Romney campaign has released its first Medicare-related ad since it announced Paul Ryan as its vice presidential nominee, attacking the president for gutting the program to pay for Obamacare.

"You paid in to Medicare for years. Every paycheck. Now, when you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion dollars from Medicare," the ad says. "The Romney-Ryan plan protects Medicare benefits for today’s seniors and strengthens the plan for the next generation."

There is no word yet on just how much money is being devoted to this ad buy. But, if it's a big investment, this could be a seminal moment of the campaign.

The conventional wisdom is that the Romney-Ryan ticket is the one that's most vulnerable on the Medicare front. Both men have advocated turning the program into a quasi-voucher system, in which recipients would get a certain amount of money to purchase private insurance. This would effectively end Medicare as it's known, though both Romney and Ryan have since accepted a twist to the plan, allowing voucher recipients to purchase traditional Medicare coverage. Either way, their approach is more drastic than what has been adopted by Obama.

Now it appears that the Romney ticket has calculated that it must launch the first salvo. And by accusing Obama of cutting more than $700 billion from Medicare, it is hoping to duplicate the success that GOP congressional candidates had in 2010 when they ran against that provision.

There are only a few problems with this. The first is that Obama didn't necessarily "cut" Medicare; he limited the expected rate of growth in the program on the supplier side by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, mostly in Medicare Advantage. And the savings that Obama achieved are adopted by Ryan in his own budget.

For Republicans, meanwhile, the ad creates its own political discomfort. The party has long bemoaned Democrats for using scare tactics when it comes to any substantive discussion on Medicare reform. (Among other things, they point to the ads Obama ran against Sen. John McCain in 2008). With Romney now engaged in this very act, the question is: Will any of those "Mediscare" complaints be directed his way?

In response to the ad, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith emailed the following statement:

Mitt Romney’s ad is dishonest and hypocritical. The savings his ad attacks do not cut a single guaranteed Medicare benefit, and Mitt Romney embraced the very same savings when he promised he’d sign Paul Ryan’s budget. Because the President is eliminating subsidies to insurance companies and cutting waste and fraud, we’ve extended the life of Medicare by eight years. The truth is that the Romney-Ryan budget would end Medicare as we know it: people with Medicare would be left with nothing but a voucher in place of the guaranteed benefits they rely on today. And they do it all to pay for massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires – the very same top-down economic scheme that crashed our economy and devastated the middle class in the first place.
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