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Are Romney and Ryan in sync on Medicare? It’s a work in progress

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan appear to be very in tune on a personal level, but they are still working out the kinks of their different policy pronouncements — particularly on Medicare.

As campaign companions, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan couldn’t be more in sync. Reports from the trail show a personal rapport born of a joint love of spread sheets and a sense that Congressman Ryan could easily be another Romney son.

But as a fully gelled presidential ticket, Mr. Romney and Ryan appear to have some work to do. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, entered the presidential fray with a high-profile budget plan to his name — one that calls for dramatic cuts to spending and taxes, and changes to entitlements. The press has zeroed in particularly on Ryan’s plan for Medicare, which would remake the federal health plan for seniors into a voucher-like system.

At first, Romney struggled with the Medicare question, almost seeming unprepared. Now he goes first for a reminder that he’s the top man on the ticket, not this new kid on the block everyone’s talking about.

“Well, first of all, Congressman Ryan has joined my campaign,” Romney told CBS “This Morning” Wednesday, when asked about the Ryan’s plan for Medicare. “And his campaign is my campaign now, and we’re on exactly the same page.”

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Romney then went to the substance of the question, about the cuts to Medicare that both President Obama and Ryan have in their plans. Romney said the cuts would be restored if he becomes president — “and Paul Ryan becomes vice president,” he added for good measure.

It is Ryan’s dramatic budget proposal that made him so compelling to some Republicans as a running mate, helping to shore up Romney’s conservative bona fides. But paradoxically, the Ryan plan has made life more difficult for Romney, since he hasn’t put out such detailed proposals and isn’t prepared to adopt the Ryan plan wholesale.

Romney has put out broad proposals and promised more detail later. Now, having taken the author of the House Republicans’ detailed plan under his wing, Romney has invited the inevitably uncomfortable comparisons.

In his CBS interview, Romney was asked point blank: “Are you running on [Ryan’s] budget or on your budget?”

Romney’s reply: “My budget, of course. I’m the one running for president.”

At least Romney has moved beyond his first awkward interaction with the press over Medicare since putting Ryan on the ticket. When asked Monday to explain how his plan differs from Ryan’s, Romney seemed unprepared.

“We haven’t gone through piece by piece and said, here is a place where there is a difference,” Romney told reporters in Miami.

“The items that we agree on, I think, outweigh any difference there may be,” Romney added later.  

For Ryan, too, the first week on the ticket has had its awkward moments. In an interview Tuesday with Brit Hume of Fox News, Ryan played a bit of dodgeball when asked to compare the savings Mr. Obama wrings from Medicare compared with the similar savings Ryan’s plan entails.

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“He cuts $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for Obamacare….,” Ryan said. “We don’t do that.”

You make savings?” Mr. Hume asked. “How much?”

More — the point — we — I joined the Romney ticket,” Ryan replied. “And what Mitt Romney is proposing to do is repeal all of Obamacare. I have voted repeatedly in Congress to repeal all of Obamacare, including this cut of $716 billion to pay for Obamacare.”

What ensued was a lengthy, complicated back and forth with Hume, in which Ryan never gets to an explanation of how his plan would also reduce spending on Medicare.

The challenge for Ryan is that, for the first time since he was elected to Congress in 1998, he’s not his own boss. He has spent 14 years developing his own brand as a thinker, a leader, and a skilled debater on all things budgetary. During the waning days of the health-care debate in 2010, he went toe to toe with Obama in a televised debate, and appeared to leave Obama speechless.

Now he answers to Romney and the needs of his presidential ticket. Clearly, Team Romney is still on its shakedown cruise with its newest member on board. And there will be plenty more opportunities to get the message on Medicare down.