Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan blasted President Barack Obama's Medicare plan before New Hampshire voters Monday, even though a central element of that plan once was embraced by Ryan, the GOP vice presidential candidate.
"Medicare should not be a piggy bank for Obamacare," Ryan told about 3,000 people at an outdoor rally where he joined Romney for the first time in a week.
The two men criticized Obama's plan to reduce Medicare's projected growth by $716 billion over 10 years. Obama says the savings would come from reduced payments to -- and greater efficiency by -- health care providers.
Romney and Ryan denounced the plan as a cut to necessary Medicare benefits, even though Ryan also backed the $716 billion reduction before joining the GOP ticket.
Romney says his proposal to offer a private alternative to Medicare would not affect anyone over age 55. Some 14 percent of New Hampshire residents are over the age of 65, and this state, which holds the nation's first presidential primary, is known for its voters' sharp questioning of candidates during such town hall-style events.
A crowd of about 3,000 — many waving Romney-Ryan signs and American flags — greeted the Republican duo for the outdoor event on the quad at St. Anselm College. Romney said the event was his 100th town hall since beginning his run for the White House more than a year ago.
Obama spent Saturday in New Hampshire, casting doubts on what the GOP ticket would do for older voters.
"You would think they would avoid talking about Medicare, given the fact that both of them have proposed to voucherize the Medicare system," he said Saturday in Windham. "But I guess they figure the best defense is to try to go on offense.
"So, New Hampshire, here is what you need to know: Since I have been in office, I have strengthened Medicare."
Obama's top aides spent Sunday repeating the claim in television interviews that the GOP would gut Medicare, while Romney's aides spent their day trying to convince voters of the opposite.
Ryan's proposal in Congress worries some seniors. His Medicare plan would encourage future retirees to consider private coverage that the government would help pay for through a voucher-like system, while keeping the traditional program as an option. A main concern that has been raised about that approach is that the government payment for health insurance won't keep pace with health care inflation, shifting an ever-growing share of costs to people on fixed incomes.
A deficit hawk and the House Republicans' chief budget writer, Ryan has stood out in Washington for laying out tough spending choices that many lawmakers in both parties avoid.
So it was almost inevitable that his selection as Romney's running mate would vault Medicare to the top of the campaign debate, even though any talk about changing the popular but costly program is typically avoided by presidential candidates.
Obama's campaign on Monday released a series of new radio advertisements that target aspects of Ryan's budget. Among the ads are spots in Florida that focus on Ryan's Medicare proposals and ads in North Carolina that accuse Ryan of wanting to cut funding for veterans' care.
Romney's campaign, meanwhile, is renewing its criticism of Obama's changes to welfare, launching a new television advertisement accusing the president of "gutting welfare reform." The ad says Romney would "put work back in welfare." The Romney campaign did not say which states the ad would run in, but said Romney will press the welfare issue during Monday's town hall in New Hampshire.
Romney has accused Obama of lifting a provision that required people receiving welfare to work. Obama's campaign says Romney's assertions are false.