PITTSBURGH – It’s not just Medicare. President Barack Obama plans to start picking apart other sections of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s sweeping budget proposals as he tries to paint the GOP ticket as too extreme for the nation.
Next up: education.
On Tuesday, Obama planned to tell voters in sharply contested Ohio that Ryan’s budget proposal would cut $115 billion from the Education Department, remove 2 million children from Head Start programs and cost 1 million college students their Pell Grants over the next decade. The line of criticism will be coupled with television ads.
Obama’s latest line of criticism was described by Democratic officials involved in the plan. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the strategy before the president began executing it, which he planned to do at Capital University in Columbus and continue later in the day during a stop at a community college in Reno, Nev.
For his part, Ryan was set to make two stops in Pennsylvania: a morning rally at a steel company in Carnegie and an afternoon visit to the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester. He then was set to fly to Virginia, a state Obama won in 2008 but which is looking more difficult this time around.
The campaign said Ryan would focus Tuesday on the Republican ticket’s plans for boosting small businesses. He also plans to address looming defense cuts, which are part of a deal brokered by Obama and congressional leaders of both parties. It was designed to force a deficit agreement, but Congress was unable to come up with a compromise.
Ryan will tell voters that the Republican ticket plans to reverse the defense cuts and replace them with “common sense reforms”, though the campaign provided no details on what those would entail.
Obama said Monday he doesn’t believe Congress can reach a deal before the November elections that avoids the cuts in military spending, but is he is optimistic that the reductions won’t occur.
Romney, meanwhile, was set to raise campaign cash ahead of next week’s GOP convention, which will officially nominate him for the presidency.
Since Romney tapped Ryan as his running mate, Democrats have aggressively highlighted what Ryan’s budget would mean to Medicare. Ryan’s plan would allow those 55 and older to stay in the health care program for seniors as it is currently set up, but would also offer private alternatives for younger workers. That has left some voters skittish.
Students and their parents are the next group Obama hopes to put on notice. The president started radio ads in New Hampshire that claim 21,000 college students in that state would have their Pell Grants cut by $800 each. Another ad tells Ohio voters that 356,000 students would have their Pell Grants cut.
Those estimates assume the cuts in Ryan’s budget are applied evenly across all programs starting in 2014 – something Ryan aides say would not happen. His budget does not directly address Pell Grant funding, and his aides say the cuts would not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
The Democratic National Committee also planned to join the criticism. Officials released a Web video that mocked Romney’s suggestion that college students would do better to “shop around” for tuition rates and college loans. The ad suggested that Romney doesn’t understand students’ struggles to pay for college.
“Students can’t afford Mitt Romney,” the ad says.
The Ryan budget, which failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, would cut annual nondefense spending by 5 percent in 2013. The next year, it would be a 19 percent cut.
Ryan, who prefers that students take loans instead of receiving grants, would keep the top Pell Grant award in the coming school year at $5,500 but in future years reduce the number of students eligible, not the award sums. In other words, fewer students would receive them but the neediest would not see their awards changed.
More than 9.7 million students are expected to get grants for the academic year that is about to begin.
Ryan’s spokesman dismissed the criticism as a distraction from Obama’s record. “Under President Obama, the costs of college have skyrocketed – making it more difficult for students to attend college – and his economic policies have made it harder for graduates to get jobs,” Brendan Buck said. “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a plan for a stronger middle class to get our economy back on track and ensure that young Americans – and all Americans – have the brighter future they deserve.”
Young voters overwhelmingly favored Obama in 2008, and he continues to enjoy a sizable lead in polls – although not as wide as four years ago. Their parents are less convinced, and they are as much Obama’s audience as their children.
“I think I remember reading something about Ryan trying to cut money for college. Andrew goes back to school pretty soon. We sure need that Pell Grant,” a voter says in one ad.
Another announcer continues, “The Romney-Ryan budget plan would cut $14 million in federal education funding for New Hampshire.”