This morning on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," Romney campaign national co-chair Tim Pawlenty adds his voice to the discussion on who has the best Medicare plan, saying that despite the spirited debate the discussion may not be good for the country.
"We should be having a debate about Mitt Romney's vision for how he's going to make it better, and this back-and-forth doesn't do either side or the country as well as it could," Pawlenty says.
Pawlenty also goes on to say that President Obama's plan still means Medicare would see significant cuts.
"It's cuts to payments to medical providers so over the next 10 years, they are going to get paid less than they would have otherwise been paid, which has all sorts of market implications," Pawlenty says. "No matter how you say this, it is a cut to Medicare."
Watch an extended clip of the interview below. See the transcript after the jump.
O'BRIEN: "Politico" has a headline, and the headline is this. The depth of the high-minded campaign. Do you think that's an accurate headline?
PAWLENTY: Well, I hope not. This should be a campaign about the bread and butter meat and potato issues facing the country. And for most Americans, that's the economy and whether they're going to have a job or their loved ones are going to have a job.
President Obama has had a chance for four years. We've got this terrible unemployment, an anemic, sputtering economy. It hasn't worked.
So we should be having a debate about Mitt Romney's vision for how he's going to make it better, and this back-and-forth doesn't do either side or the country as well as it could. And we have a president who won't even disclaim an ad that accuses Mitt Romney of killing a gentleman's wife, which turned out to not be even close to factually true.
So, at bare minimum, he should have the decency to at least disclaim the lowest of the low, and he won't even do that.
O'BRIEN: Well, it seems like the ads on all sides I think in all fairness have been stretching the truth or being over the top maybe fair to say as well.
Let me play a bit of a new Mitt Romney ad, which is about Medicare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: You paid into Medicare for years, every paycheck. Now when you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare. Why? To pay for Obamacare.
So now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that's not for you.
The Romney-Ryan plan protects Medicare benefits for today's seniors and strengthens the plan for the next generation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: That's the new ad about Medicare, which is a topic that everybody is talking about. Let's walk through the specific words. That ad says President Obama has cut $716 billion. And the CBO would say, and has said, it really is a reduction over 10 years in spending. That's from their March 30th, 2011, report. The payment rates for most services, permanent reductions in the payment rates.
But the next thing it is in that ad, money you paid for guaranteed health care. But isn't that just specifically not true? I mean, it's not money anybody's paid yet. It's future spending which still goes up. Isn't that just patently untrue in that ad?
PAWLENTY: No. That's not correct, Soledad. There's only one person in this race of the candidates running, president or vice president, who has proposed, signed into law, and voted for a cut in Medicare, and it's a big one, and that's the $716 billion, and his name is Barack Obama.
So it is not beyond factual. It is absolutely beyond factual dispute that he's cut $716 billion out of the money that was projected to be spent on Medicare over the next 10 years. And that would have been reimbursement –
O'BRIEN: But it's not a cut in Medicare. Let me read from the CBO.
PAWLENTY: It's a cut –
O'BRIEN: It's a permanent reduction –
PAWLENTY: - compared to what they planned on spending.
O'BRIEN: - in annual updates to Medicaid payments. So it's a cut in future spending. And it's cuts that actually go to insurers, right? It's not cuts to individuals.
PAWLENTY: I know exactly what it is. Here's what it is. It's cuts to payments to medical providers so over the next 10 years, they are going to get paid less than they would have otherwise been paid, which has all sorts of market implications and –
O'BRIEN: Right, because they agreed to it. And those medical providers agreed to it because they said by bringing more people into the system, that offsets those cuts.
PAWLENTY: No matter how you say this, it is a cut to Medicare. You can't even look your viewers in the eye and say it's not a cut in Medicare.
O'BRIEN: Well, I can't look viewers in the eye from where I am. I'm not saying either thing. I'm saying the way the CBO puts it, the permanent reduction in annual updates to payment rates for most services. That is a savings, if you're talking about it –
PAWLENTY: Do you know what that is in English?
O'BRIEN: I speak English incredibly well, sir, as you know. Tell me what it is in English.
PAWLENTY: In plain speaking it's this. And I just mean compared to the mumbo jumbo of the bureaucracy in the CBO. They were saying it was going to go up by one, and now it's going up by less than $719 billion, excuse me.
So, there's no question that's a cut compared to where current law was before Obamacare was passed. You can't - there's no way you can present that in any other way.
O'BRIEN: Or you could call it a savings. But let's move on for a moment. That $716 billion is the core of Paul Ryan's budget, right? It's part of his budget. He uses that same number, that same figure.
I don't understand how you can slam President Obama for it on one hand, and Republicans can vote for it both in March of 2011 and in March of 2012 virtually every Republican voted for it and cheered it. It seems very contradictory.
PAWLENTY: Well, here's how you can distinguish it. First, no Republicans voted for Obamacare. So let's keep that clear.
Two, Mitt Romney, who's actually running for president of the United States and is Obama's opponent for president, has promised to restore that $716 billion. So that's a major difference between these two candidates.
O'BRIEN: Well, OK. But you know House Republicans voted for the Ryan budget. So virtually every Republican did vote for it. And Mitt Romney's budget, honestly, is incredibly unclear. It's very, very vague. Let's play a chunk of Paul Ryan talking to Brit Hume trying to defend the budget, and he had a hard time telling him what the numbers would look like, and this man is the face of number crunching in the House.
PAWLENTY: I'll listen to this, but I want a chance to come back to this Ryan vote as well, because it's different than Obamacare.
O'BRIEN: It is different. Let's play a little bit of Ryan talking to Brit Hume, trying to figure out the numbers of what a Romney budget would look like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: The budget plan that you're now supporting would get to balance when?
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, they're different - the budget plan that Mitt Romney is supporting gets us down to 20 percent of GDP government spending by 2016. That means get the size of government back to where it historically has been.
What President Obama has done is he has brought the size of government to as high as it hasn't been since World War II. We want to reduce the size of government to have more economic freedom.
HUME: I get that. But what about balance?
RYAN: Well, I don't know exactly when it balances because I don't want to get wonky on you, but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: He doesn't want to get wonky because he hasn't run the numbers because the plan is very vague. The plan is very, very vague.
PAWLENTY: Well, Soledad, a couple of things. First of all, we know that Governor Romney's plan moves towards and puts the country on a path towards balancing the budget much more rapidly and dramatically than President Obama has in mind, which is trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and the debt and the deficit growing.
But I want to get back to the point you made before the break, which is you can't compare the House Republicans vote for the Ryan proposal to save Medicare to the vote to support Obamacare, which cuts Medicare by $716 billion. Those are two very different things.
In the case of the Ryan plan, the House members voted as they did but in an effort to save Medicare through a different approach.
O'BRIEN: They are using the same numbers.
You're right. They are different things, but they - but that $716 is the same $716 billion. Which is the one hand Obama opponents are saying it's terrible, but if it's in the Ryan budget, they vote for it twice.
PAWLENTY: Well, two things. One is you can't compare the House vote for the Ryan plan with the Obama care vote. I understand what you're saying about the $716. But those are two different proposals and you're cross pollinating the two rhetorically.
But beyond that, there's one person in the race that says he will restore that $716 billion and hasn't supported those cuts, and that's Mitt Romney.
But the broader point is this, we clearly have a problem in Medicare and our entitlement programs, more broadly. I think reasonable people can dispute that. Governor Romney and Paul Ryan have put specific proposals on the table to gut them but to save them. They may not like those proposals but they actually save the programs and they are needed, and they are adult detailed specific proposals.
And guess what? We have a president of the United States, the leader of our country, when we have one of the most important financial challenges of our country, he won't even put a specific proposal on the table. Beyond his cuts, where is the president's specific proposal to save Medicare? Where is his specific proposal to save Social Security? Where is his proposal to save Medicaid?
Other than relentless calls to increase taxes, most not even related to the details of saving those programs, you can't find them.
O'BRIEN: Well, we're going to have to continue our conversation because I'm out of time. And you open up the whole tax thing, which we could get to, but that would take another 15 minutes of chatting back and forth.
PAWLENTY: You have me come back.
O'BRIEN: It's a deal. Thank you.
PAWLENTY: And we'll have a supplement.
O'BRIEN: I accept that. I would love to that have that, sir. You know that. Thanks, Mr. Pawlenty. We certainly appreciate it, Governor. We are grateful to have you.
PAWLENTY: Thanks, Soledad.