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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Briefing, Obama Touches on Medicare and Romney\'s Taxes

Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

President Obama used an impromptu news conference on Monday to wade into domestic and campaign issues, defending his demand that his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, release more of his tax returns and returning fire in the debate over Medicare.

The president disputed suggestions that he was lowering the tone of the election with his drumbeat of demands that Mr. Romney release more of his income tax returns.

“The American people have assumed that if you want to be president of the United States that your life's an open book when it comes to things like finances,” Mr. Obama said. “I'm not asking him to disclose every detail of his medical records, although we normally do that as well.”

“This isn't sort of overly pe rsonal, guys, this is standard stuff,” the president said, with a thin smile. “I don't think we're mean by asking you to do what every other presidential candidate's done, right? It's what the American people expect.”

Mr. Obama opened with remarks on Medicare, apparently in an attempt to push back on the Romney campaign's assertions that the health care law he championed was responsible for cuts in the health care program for older Americans.

“Today, H.H.S. announced that thanks to the health care law that we passed, nearly 5.4 million seniors with Medicare have saved over $4.1 billion on prescription drugs,” Mr. Obama said before taking questions, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services. “That's an average savings of more than $700 per person. This year alone, 18 million seniors with Medicare have taken advantage of new preventive care benefits like a mammogram or other cancer screening at no extra cost . These are big deals for a lot of Americans, and it represents two important ways that the improvements we made as part of the Affordable Care Act has strengthened Medicare and helped seniors everywhere get better care at less cost.”

Mr. Obama's surprise appearance before the White House press corps came after a long hiatus that prompted some grumbling that the president was bypassing them and saving his interviews for local newspapers and television stations.

“Jay tells me that you guys have been missing me,” Mr. Obama said, after striding into the briefing room and interrupting his press secretary, Jay Carney, midsentence.

After his appearance, during which he took a handful of questions from network news correspondents and The Associated Press, Mr. Obama excused himself to grant interviews with local television stations in Virginia, Florida and California. The White House said that was part of a longstanding communications strategy aimed at tailor ing his message to local audiences. During this election, the Obama campaign has also given presidential interviews to national outlets that specialize in softer news or sports, like “Entertainment Tonight,” People magazine and ESPN.

White House officials said the strategy recognized how the media landscape has fractured in recent years. “In an increasingly diffuse media world, relying simply on traditional political media would be like fighting with one arm and two legs behind our back,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director.