WASHINGTON - Since Paul Ryan joined the Republican presidential ticket Saturday, Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD, has not run away from the Medicare issue. Instead, it looks as if he’s decided that offense is the best defense.
    
“The only people who have put laws into place that have cut Medicare are Democrats, including President Obama,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview. “The Republican approach is to preserve and protect Medicare for current and future seniors.”
    
The topic has become more intense in the aftermath of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney selecting Ryan, a seven-term Wisconsin congressman, as his running mate. Overhauling Medicare is central to the budget resolutions that Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has written the past two years.
    
Under the Ryan plan, people under 55 would receive subsidies to purchase private insurance on a Medicare exchange or to enter the traditional fee-for-service program. Current coverage would not change for people in or near retirement.
    
Medicare reform was a key element of House budget blueprints that Bucshon supported in 2011 and 2012 that were designed to cut federal spending.
    
His opponent, former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks, says Bucshon’s votes put him at odds with southwest Indiana voters.
    
“Every time I talk to people about Medicare, they’re troubled that he would end the Medicare guarantee and force future seniors to pay $6400 more per year to keep a basic Medicare plan,” Crooks said in an HPI interview. The cost increase estimate is from a Congressional Budget Office report.
    
“He’s totally out of sync with the rest of us in the district,” Crooks said.
    
Bucshon counters that congressional Democrats approved the 2010 health care law that cuts Medicare by about $716 billion over 10 years to fund measure’s reforms.
    
“They’re trying to deflect criticism of what they’ve done to Medicare,” Bucshon said of Democrats. “They’re going to limit access to health care for seniors with these dramatic cuts to provider reimbursement.”
    
Crooks said he would vote to overturn the Medicare cuts in the health care reform law. He emphasizes that they were included in Ryan’s House budgets.
    
“When the Ryan plan was rolled out, they could have changed the numbers,” Crooks said. “Ryan left them in, and Bucshon supported it.”
    
In his fiscal year 2013 budget blueprint, Ryan acknowledged maintaining the health care reform law’s Medicare reductions.
    
“This budget . . . ensures that any potential savings in current law would go to shore up Medicare, not pay for new entitlements,” the outline, the Path to Prosperity, states.
    
Criticism of the inclusion of the Medicare savings in the Ryan plan is “unfounded,” Bucshon said, because “budgets are based on what’s in current law.”
    
House Republicans have voted multiple times to do away with the health care law altogether. Crooks said the law shouldn’t be scuttled but does need some revisions.
    
“There are some positive things in there,” Crooks said. “We need to make it better.”
    
In Indiana’s other competitive House race, the open seat in the 2nd CD, both candidates are hewing to their party lines. “The Romney Ryan ticket provides Americans with two very different leadership options for the next four years,” said Republican Jackie Walorski. “Americans can either choose to remain on this dismal path of slow job growth and bigger government, or vote for real change. I remain focused on improving our economy and creating jobs by repealing Obamacare, preventing tax increases, and reducing red tape on small businesses.”
    
Democrat Brendan Mullen said the Ryan plan would hurt north central Indiana. “Congressman Ryan’s budget, which my opponent supports, just doesn’t make good fiscal sense for our families because it cuts Medicare that people rely on, forces folks to pay thousands more for their benefits, but keeps tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas,” Mullen said. “The last thing my mother and father or any Hoosiers want or need is to take money out of the pockets of seniors when special interests are getting a tax break.”
    
In terms of campaign mechanics, the Ryan selection is boosting fundraising for Crooks. “We sent out a [email] blast on Monday and got a very good response,” Crooks said. He declined to say how much was generated in donations but called it “above average.”    
    
The reaction to Ryan among voters has been positive, according to Bucshon. He calls him “a Midwestern guy, a family man with strong moral character and strong conservative values I agree with.”
    
It’s a good thing that Ryan’s budget has spurred a debate about the size and scope of government, according to Bucshon.
    
“We need to have these big issues on the table so the American people can decide who they think has the best plan for America,” Bucshon said. “Of course, I believe we do.”

Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.