Dean Baker
The Guardian Unlimited, September 15, 2008

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John McCain's attacks on Barack Obama are designed to distract from his plans to cut social security and healthcare benefits

The McCain-Palin ticket has developed an interesting campaign strategy. They don’t want the public to see their plans to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, and the system of employer-provided health care. To distract people from these policies that will directly affect their lives they are taking politics to new lows.

Among the highlights for the cesspool two is the nonsense that Senator Obama was calling Governor Palin a barnyard animal when he used the old expression “putting lipstick on a pig.” Then Senator McCain told us that he approved of an ad calling Senator Obama a sexual pervert.

These two are happy to throw out any sort of vile lie because the more time the media and the public spend focusing on this garbage, the less time they will have to notice that Senator McCain wants to privatize and cut their Social Security.  Senator McCain thinks that America’s workers have it too easy when they retire. He wants them to retire later and have less money when they do.

In addition to cutting Social Security he is also likely to cut Medicare benefits. He has railed about “entitlements” in the past and because of our broken health care system, Medicare is the most rapidly growing entitlement. Senator McCain has also supported measures that increase the cost of Medicare by subsidizing private insurers that take part in the program. In other words, McCain is likely to reduce Medicare benefits in order to increase the profits of private insurers.

Senator McCain has also explicitly targeted the system of employer-based health insurance through which most non-elderly people get their coverage. McCain proposes to take away the tax deduction for employer-provided insurance, a seeming violation of his no tax increase pledge. (McCain would provide a $2,500 tax credit for buying insurance.)

Under McCain’s plan, the money that employers pay for health insurance would be taxed in the same way as money paid in wages. That means that workers would pay taxes on money that they never see in their paychecks. When insurers increase their premiums, employers would have to pull more money out of workers paychecks for taxes, even if they covered the full cost of the premium hike. This means that workers see their take-home pay cut every time insurers raise premiums.

As an employer, I can guarantee that this will create a big headache, and no doubt lead many employers to just drop health insurance coverage. Dealing with insurance companies is bad enough. Having to constantly explain to your workers why their pay is falling is too much.

McCain’s plan will soon destroy the system of employer-based insurance, which is undoubtedly its intention. Before long, the vast majority of people will have to shop individually for their health insurance. This will lead to an enormous waste of time as tens of millions of families will have to ask questions like “do you want the plan that’s good on cancer, but bad on heart disease or the plan that’s bad on cancer but good on heart disease?”

Even worse, the people who have serious health problems and most need insurance will find it extremely expensive, if not impossible, to get insurance coverage. See, insurance companies don’t like to insure sick people. They lose money on them. They have no choice if they get an employer-based pool that includes mostly healthy people, but also some with health problems.

If insurers get to choose their customers individually, as they would under Senator McCain’s plan, then they can either refuse coverage or set exorbitant premiums for anyone with a serious health condition. In other words, McCain’s system of individual insurance is just great for anyone who doesn’t really need insurance.

Anyhow, if the McCain-Palin ticket hadn’t dragged this campaign into the gutter, then we would be having a serious debate right now over their plans to eliminate employer-provided health care. We would also have a debate over their plans for Medicare and Social Security. We might hear more about their budget plans, including their intention to extend President Bush’s tax cuts to the richest people in the country.

But the McCain-Palin positions on these issues are not popular. If the public clearly understood what they are proposing, they would lose in a landslide.

Therefore, they are running a cesspool campaign to distract the public.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer ( He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.