* Obama says Romney in some ways more extreme than Bush
* Attacks Republican's "voucher" plan for Medicare
* Romney says Obama's health reform stopping job creation
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 President Barack Obama, long
accused by Republicans of pursuing a socialist agenda on
healthcare and other policies, tried to cast his Republican
rival Mitt Romney as an extremist on Medicare and women's health
issues in their debate on Tuesday.
Obama went after Romney in response a question from the
audience about what distinguished the former Massachusetts
governor's positions from those of another Republican, former
President George W. Bush.
"George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a
voucher," Obama said. "George Bush never suggested that we
eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
"In some ways," Obama added, Romney had "gone to a more
extreme place when it comes to social policy."
It was one of the few moments in the debate that put the
spotlight on health issues. And it gave Obama the chance to
claim that his opponent's health policies were outside the
mainstream, at a time when Reuters/Ipsos polling data indicate
that Romney has begun to erase the president's lead when it
comes to which candidate has a better plan for healthcare.
Obama's "voucher" comment referred to a Romney plan to
convert the popular Medicare insurance program for the elderly
and disabled into a system that would give future beneficiaries
a fixed payment to help them buy coverage from private insurers
or traditional Medicare.
The approach is broadly unpopular among voters including
senior citizens, who oppose the idea of a "premium support"
system by 2-to-1 ratios in opinion polls.
The president sought to paint Romney's Medicare plan as an
idea that would have been beyond the pale for Bush, a staunch
conservative who angered seniors by proposing the partial
privatization of Social Security but who also expanded Medicare
- and grew the federal deficit - by adding a new drug benefit
Obama also sought to hit Romney on women's health issues by
targeting the Republican's pledge to eliminate funding for
Planned Parenthood, the women's health network targeted by
anti-abortion activists because abortions are among the health
services it provides.
Planned Parenthood says that only a small fraction of its
budget funds abortions and that no federal money is involved.
Obama cast Romney's position as a liability for women who
rely on Planned Parenthood for health services, including cancer
screening and contraceptives.
Romney shot back with attacks on Obama's healthcare reform,
which the Republicans dub "Obamacare" and deride as a government
takeover of the $2.8 trillion U.S. health system.
Romney said Obama's healthcare program was holding small
businesses back from creating jobs by adding to their healthcare
costs and would drive those costs higher in coming years.
He also said that Obama had made no proposal to revamp
Medicare, which will face financial problems in future years as
healthcare costs rise and the baby boom generation retires.
Democrats say Obama's policies have extended the life of
Medicare's hospital trust fund, which helps pay for hospital
benefits, and that his healthcare law seeks efficiencies to
improve care and control program costs.
Healthcare spending, a benchmark for costs, is forecast to
rise 7.4 percent in 2014 as Obama's reforms add millions of
uninsured people to the healthcare rolls, according to