Hoekstra, Stabenow campaigns spar over Medicare

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Republican Pete Hoekstra has accused his Democratic rival of undermining the popular Medicare program by voting for President Barack Obama's health care plan, in the first television ad of his U.S. Senate campaign released Monday.

The attack on Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow echoes GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's frequent contention that Obama's plan diverts $716 billion from the federal health insurance program for seniors. The reductions would take place over a decade and would come from payments to health care providers, although Republicans say they would result in less generous benefits for individuals.

"Her cutting Medicare means lower quality of care for seniors as doctors drop Medicare patients and seniors losing their insurance even if they like it," Hoekstra said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The ad shows footage of Stabenow holding a microphone in an outdoor setting. It doesn't show the audience, but Hoekstra's campaign said the footage was taken Sept. 29. "Here's Debbie Stabenow, caught admitting to cutting seniors' Medicare by $716 billion," an announcer says.

It then shows Stabenow saying, "And they say to us, 'Well, you have cut spending in health care reform for Medicare.' Yes, we did."

The announcer says Stabenow also cut Medicare Advantage, which provides benefits through private companies operating under contract with the government. "Did Stabenow sell out Michigan seniors?" the voice asks, and Stabenow's "Yes, we did" is repeated.

Stabenow campaign spokesman Cullen Schwarz responded that independent fact checkers have found Hoekstra's claims to be false. "Debbie is fighting to protect Medicare and eliminated overpayments to insurance companies, while Pete Hoekstra's plan would turn Medicare into a voucher program and make seniors pay $6,400 more for their health care each year," Schwarz said.

Both sides in the presidential race have accused the other of taking positions that would damage Medicare, which serves nearly 50 million seniors and disabled people. Romney has said significant changes are needed to save the program for future generations, while Obama has charged that the Republican plan "ends Medicare as we know it." Romney says his plan would rely on competition to rein in costs.

Hoekstra, who acknowledges trailing Stabenow as the campaign enters its final month, is counting on the Medicare issue to give him fresh momentum. The Democratic incumbent has been running TV ads for three weeks that ignore Hoekstra and deal with Stabenow's work on farming and manufacturing issues.

"It's a big issue, protecting the safety net for seniors," Hoekstra campaign spokesman Greg VanWoerkom said. "They cut it to allow passage of Obamacare, which remains very unpopular. Once people understand that, it will make her vulnerable."

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