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Biden-Ryan debate: why it doesn’t matter, and why it does (+video)

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“It will be a setup for the next presidential debate,” says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “Biden needs to lay out the specifics of where Romney-Ryan goes wrong, and where they [Obama-Biden] go right.”

Biden will need to go on the offensive, Mr. Fenn says, not just in style but also "in substance and in clarity with the difference in their two positions.”

One flashpoint is likely to be Medicare – the national health insurance program for seniors that is the largest contributor to long-term federal deficits. Congressman Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is author of a plan that would change Medicare from a fee-for-service setup to a system of “premium support.” Biden calls it a plan to “voucherize” Medicare, forcing seniors over time to pay a growing share of their health-care costs out of pocket.

The Romney plan, a different version of Ryan’s, also moves Medicare to “premium support,” but Mr. Romney and Ryan maintain that by encouraging more private-sector competition among insurance plans, the costs would come down. They would also add means testing, providing less support to wealthier seniors and more to the less wealthy.

If Biden is clever, he can tie Ryan down on the details, at times vague, of the Romney-Ryan plan. In return, watch for Ryan’s mastery of all things budgetary and his skill on the stump in talking through budget matters in an accessible way. Ryan is sure to bring his Medicare-recipient mother, Betty Ryan Douglas, into the discussion, as a living, breathing example of why he wants to save Medicare, not destroy it, as the Democrats say the Romney-Ryan plan would end up doing.

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