(CNN) — The ongoing furor over U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks on rape and pregnancy was largely ignored on the campaign trail Tuesday as candidates for president and vice president refocused their attention on the issues that have dominated the election for weeks: Medicare and the economy.
Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, spoke at a Pennsylvania steel plant in front of a sign reading “We Did Build It,” another reference to a now-familiar Republican line against President Barack Obama, who in July said that small businesses owed part of their success to government-provided services.
“We have this funny idea, Mitt and I, that if you encourage success you get more of it,” Ryan said at Beaver Steel Services in Carnegie. “It’s a good thing. If you demonize success, if you resent success, you get less success and less prosperity, less jobs and less take home pay.”
The attention on the economy came as Republican leaders were ramping up their calls for Akin, a Missouri congressman, to drop out of his race for the U.S. Senate after asserting that “legitimate rape” rarely resulted in pregnancy. Romney, who spent Tuesday fund-raising in Texas, called the remarks “deeply offensive” and said he couldn’t defend the Missouri lawmaker.
Ryan, who personally maintains an opposition to abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is at risk, also distanced himself from Akin, and did not mention the Republican dust-up at his stop Tuesday.
The Wisconsin congressman chose instead to wade back into a debate over Medicare, which has been at the forefront of the campaign since he became Mitt Romney’s running mate. Ryan has proposed a plan in the House of Representatives that would allow private insurers to compete with traditional Medicare on an exchange, a move Democrats say would amount to a “gutting” of the government-run health care program for senior citizens.
Ryan and Romney have hit back, pointing out that the House plan, as well as Romney’s own plan, would not affect seniors currently enrolled in Medicare. They also claim Obama cut funding for Medicare to pay for his sweeping health care law.
Ryan continued using the attack line Tuesday, saying Obama “treated Medicare like a piggybank to pay for Obamacare and his campaign called that an achievement.”
Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Minnesota, pushed back hard on Ryan’s claim, saying the law put in place by Obama strengthened Medicare without “cutting a penny.”
“We extended the life of Medicare by eight years,” Biden said. “The very thing Romney wants to eliminate now. Saving millions of seniors hundreds of dollars a year on their prescription drugs, allowing them to go to preventative care.”
Biden framed the upcoming election as a “make or break moment for the middle class,” and took a shot at Romney for not standing by some of his claims.
“I don’t have to talk about the character or conviction of the president compared to his rival,” Biden said. “Presidential elections come down to character, and the conviction of your character. The American public knowing that what you say, you mean. That you stand by what you said you would do.”
In Ohio, Obama also sharply rebuffed his Republican rivals, saying their economic plans — specifically Romney’s suggestion that students struggling to pay for college borrow money from their parents — unfairly benefited the wealthy.
“That’s not an answer,” Obama said. “There is nothing a parent wants more than to give our kids opportunities we never had. And there are few things as painful as not being able to do that.”
“I do not accept the notion that we should deny their children the opportunity of a higher education and a brighter future just because their families were hit hard by the recession,” the president continued.
Romney’s campaign fired back, saying the president’s own record on higher education was nothing to brag about.
“Under this president, too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt, and a lack of good jobs when they graduate,” Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, wrote in a statement. “Today’s policies are just more of the same from a president who hasn’t fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago.”
By Kevin Liptak – CNN
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