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Obama, Romney pass Sunday in church, with families

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CHARLES BABINGTON | August 19, 2012 03:16 PM EST | AP

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WOLFEBORO, N.H. — President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spent a quiet Sunday attending church with their families, resting up for the campaign's final 11 weeks and the approaching party nominating conventions.

While the Romneys enjoyed beautiful sunshine in New Hampshire, and the Obamas endured rain in Washington, both men sent top advisers to the Sunday talk shows. These surrogates sparred mainly over Medicare and taxes, just as the candidates themselves have done for days.

Obama and Romney plunge back into heavy campaigning and fundraising this week. Targeted states include Ohio, Nevada and New Hampshire.

The debate's dominant topic remains how to tame Medicare's explosive growth without hurting the millions of elderly Americans, and future retirees, who count on it to pay for health care.

TV interviewers pressed Romney aides to explain how the GOP ticket can restore a proposed $716 billion cut in Medicare spending's growth over 10 years without worsening the program's projected shortfall in funding. Moderators also noted that Romney's running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, originally joined Obama in backing the proposed $716 billion, 10-year reduction.

Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN's "State of the Union" that Ryan and Romney are now in accord. The $716 billion can safely remain in the program, he said, because Romney will "introduce choice and competition through more private plans."

Romney also would trim benefits for wealthier people and gradually raise the eligibility age. None of his proposed changes would affect Americans now 55 or older.

Obama aide Stephanie Cutter, also on CNN, said Romney's plan to keep the $716 billion in Medicare over 10 years would do nothing to shore up the program.

"They're going to use taxpayer dollars to give subsidies to insurance companies," she said.

Obama's proposed reductions would not hurt Medicare recipients, Cutter said, because he would create incentives for health providers to be more efficient.

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican adviser Ed Gillespie was asked about a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finding that under Romney's "premium support" proposals, "Medicare beneficiaries will bear a much larger share of their health care cost."

"We reject that in our analysis," Gillespie said. He said Romney's overall plans, including a higher eligibility age, eventually would slow the program's growth.

On another front, Gillespie disputed Obama's claim that Romney's call for deeper tax cuts will unfairly benefit the wealthy and worsen the deficit.

Romney's plan, Gillespie said, "would allow for households with incomes less than $200,000 to not pay on capital gains and dividends, because we believe that would help foster job creation."

Obama, his wife and their two daughters attended services at St. John's Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House.

The president plans to campaign Tuesday in Ohio, and Wednesday in Nevada and New York.

Romney attended the Mormon church in Wolfeboro, N.H. – where he has a summer home – with his wife, Ann, and six of their grandchildren. The children's parents, Tagg and Jennifer Romney, also attended.

One grandson, Johnny, spent much of service seated on his grandmother's lap – and a briefer time on his grandfather's lap – quietly paging through children's picture books.

The churchgoers, accustomed to seeing the Romneys here in summer months, paid no special attention to the family. No one from the pulpit mentioned their presence.

Romney and Ryan plan to talk with voters Monday in Manchester, N.H. Romney then will fly to New Orleans for a fundraiser.