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For a moment, at least, presidential campaigns get back to issues

On the Sunday TV talk shows, presidential campaign surrogates of both parties zeroed in on Medicare. But inevitably, Mitt Romney's so-far unreleased tax returns came up too.

By Staff writer / August 19, 2012

President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after speaking at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in April.

Chuck Liddy/AP/File

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First comes a handful of mud slung at an opponent. Then a bucketful. Pretty soon everybody’s doing it, nobody left unmuddied or with clean hands.

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So it goes in campaign politicking, where the only thing worse than too much mud (or too much PAC money) is what both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have referred to as “unilateral disarmament.”

Maybe because it was the Christian Sabbath – both Obama and Romney went to church with their families – or maybe it was the summer weather. But things seemed to calm down a bit Sunday when campaign surrogates faced off on the TV talk shows – talking mainly about the issues.

On ABC's "This Week," Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland – both budget committee members – debated Medicare.

"What [the Romney-Ryan] plan does it says we're going to have competition, starting ten years from now, mind you, anybody who's currently getting Medicare gets exactly what they're getting now and that doesn't change,” said Sen. Toomey. “But what happens is for someone such as myself, who's 50, when I reach retirement age, I'm going to have a range of choices.”

“The government isn't going to have a specified dollar amount, it's going to require insurers to compete,” he continued. “It will set that dollar amount based on that competition, insuring that I will always be able to receive from the government a premium necessary to buy a plan that's equivalent to current Medicare.”

“Equivalent to current Medicare?” Not so, argued Rep. Holland.

"The Romney/Ryan plan would immediately increase costs for seniors," Rep. Holland said. "By design, it saves Medicare money by providing seniors with a voucher that declines in value relative to rising health care costs. So health care costs are going up, the value of the voucher does not keep pace. Seniors will have to eat that cost, as opposed to the president's Medicare plan, which says we need to contain costs by changing the incentives in the health care system to reward providers for the quality of care they provide, rather than the quantity of care."

It’s unlikely that their exchange changed many voters’ minds or even clarified the complications of Medicare very much.

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."

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