ZANESVILLE, Ohio — Inviting the media to "fact-check me," Democratic Vice President Joe Biden attacked his Republican opponents Saturday as planning to cut the benefits of 30 million beneficiaries of Medicare "immediately." He was on a campaign swing through this Appalachian area of south-central Ohio.
The Romney-Ryan plan, he said, "would cause the Medicare trust fund to run out by 2016."
The Mitt Romney campaign said Mr. Biden's claims didn't hold up to fact-checking -- even though Mr. Biden several times during his Zanesville speech invited the media to fact-check his assertions.
"Vice President Biden is once again advancing fabricated and disproven attacks on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," Romney campaign spokesman Chris Maloney said after the event. "This is further proof that the Obama campaign is unable and unwilling to talk honestly or substantively about the most important issues driving the country."
As proposed, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal would not apply to anyone receiving Medicare or older than 55. And it would allow future Medicare-eligible people to take the "premium-support plan" -- a subsidy to pay for private insurance -- or choose traditional Medicare.
Mr. Biden said the premium-support plan is a voucher that means "Mom" will have to pay for her care partly out of her own pocket.
"This is a fact, I say to the press, fact-check me," he said. " … What they're proposing will actually cause the Medicare trust fund to run out of money by 2016, and the most important thing they did not tell you, they're not for actually preserving Medicare, they're for a whole new plan, Vouchercare."
He pilloried Mr. Romney's plans for preserving and extending tax cuts on incomes above $250,000.
"They need to pay for the massive tax cuts they want to keep for the very wealthy and add for the very wealthy," Mr. Biden said. "Somebody has to pay for it. And guess who? You," he said to a crowd of about 500 in Zane Grey Elementary School.
Mr. Biden made the same point four hours later in Athens to a crowd of 675 jammed into the Athens Community Center.
Protesters greeted the vice presidential motorcade in Zanesville, some holding Romney signs, signs about coal, and one that read: "Americans Don't Eat Dogs."
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who was with Mr. Biden, said in an interview that the election in Ohio could be decided within 2 or 3 percentage points.
"Every voter in Ohio is important. You're going to see the vice president all over the state. I think he will be in Ohio at least once a week, maybe as often as twice a week," he said.
The Obama campaign said Saturday that Mr. Biden will return Wednesday to campaign in western Ohio.
Mr. Strickland said Zanesville is close to coal country and defended the administration, whose environmental regulations have upset coal miners and coal operators.
"There is no war on coal. There are more coal miners today than when Barack Obama became president," Mr. Strickland said.
Mr. Biden was to continue on to Portsmouth and Milford, a suburb of Cincinnati, today.
Mr. Romney is expected in Mansfield on Monday.
Among the Zanesville crowd were sisters Tara Neptune, 40, of New Concord and Tricia Kidd, 43, of Nashport. Like Zanesville's unique Y-Bridge that spans the Muskingum and Licking rivers, they could turn either way in the election.
"I'm neutral right now. I want to hear what he has to say," Ms. Kidd said of Mr. Biden. As a grant-writer, she said she sees the Democrats as more likely to support funding for grants to nonprofit groups and local governments. "I'm not necessarily undecided. I'm more leaning toward the Democrats," she admitted.
Ms. Neptune, a teacher in Zane Grey Elementary, said she thinks the Obama Administration doesn't push welfare recipients hard enough to work.
"The jobs are there. I think they need to go find them," she said.
One of the volunteers helping organize the crowd at Zanesville said Mr. Obama saved his State Teachers Retirement System, or STRS, account by saving the economy in 2009.
"I'm concerned about my retirement. I'm concerned about Medicare," said Jim Ruege, a retired Zanesville High history teacher. "The economy was hurting when I retired. He turned it around. I'm convinced his policies saved STRS."
The Romney campaign responded to the Biden swing by pointing to Friday's disappointing report that 96,000 jobs were created in August.
"Yesterday's dismal jobs report was further evidence that middle-class families across America aren't better off in the Obama economy," Mr. Maloney said.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.