"Dear Florida": Five Ways McCain/Palin Will Make Things Worse For Older Americans

Obama has built a massive lead over McCain in the last several weeks. But while McCain now lags in all age groups, he retains his strongest support among voters 65 and older. Maybe that's because the overall economic crisis has received so much attention. The country hasn't devoted enough time to talking about the effect this election could have on retired people.

So I wrote a little letter. It goes like this:

Dear Florida (and anywhere else Americans over 65 live in large, swing-state-vote numbers):

It gets a little harder for me to use the word "seniors' with every passing year. Is that time whispering in my ear? But I'd like to talk about five ways a McCain/Palin victory could impact ... er, older Americans in the next four years. And for those of you who are in Florida - well, we won't even discuss the fact that you live in a part of the country the McCain campaign says "isn't 'pro-America.'" How dare they? You've served this country well, in war and in peace. Who are they to say who loves this country and who doesn't?

But enough about that. Here are five things you should consider before you vote.

1. They Want to Cut Medicare.

It's not complicated: John McCain wants to cut Medicare by $1.3 trillion over the next ten years. He says he'll do it in two ways: by "cutting waste and fraud," and by "reforming payment policies." As a young systems analyst over 25 years ago, one of my first jobs involved reviewing the anti-fraud software Medicare was using. It was pretty sophisticated even then, and techniques keep improving. Sure, there's undoubtedly more fraud to be uncovered. But $1 trillion worth? No.

That leaves McCain and Palin squeezing most of that $1 trillion from "reforming payment policies." Here's what those words mean in real-life terms: Physicians will be forced to accept lower payments. They'll probably have to justify their actions with more paperwork, too.

The end result? More doctors will stop accepting Medicare patients, making it harder for you to find one when you need treatment. And they'll be more reluctant to perform certain procedures, when they feel Medicare isn't covering the real cost of the service.

That will make it harder for you to get the medical care you need and deserve.

2. They'll Tamper With Social Security.

When John McCain first announced his spending freeze he named a few exemptions. Social Security wasn't one of them. He added it to the list a few days later after an outcry. But McCain has a history of advocating Social Security cuts, and he's pushed a privatization plan that could have left retired people even more devastated by the recent economic downturn.

He says now that he's disowned his past support for "privatizing" Social Security. But as recently as this March he said that "I'm totally in favor of personal savings accounts... As part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it--along the lines that President Bush proposed." (courtesy AFL-CIO)

It doesn't improve things that much if you say, as Mr. McCain now does, that privatization should be strictly "voluntary." Once you allow people to opt out of the group system, it becomes less financially stable. McCain's policy puts our nation's retirement safety net at risk.

(By the way, my use of the word "unstable" isn't a coded attack on Sen. McCain's age - honest! Colin Powell's the same age, and he was steady as a rock on Meet The Press last Sunday. Didn't you think?)

3. Access to Credit

Sure, this is a big problem for younger people. But it will be a problem for retirees, too. Credit won't be nearly as easy to get as it has been. Lenders will be tempted to tighten rules for people who are on fixed incomes, and those whose life expectancy is not as long.

Who do you think that will affect most?

You may not need to buy a new home, but you probably use credit for any number of smaller purchases. Higher interest rates and difficulty getting credit could make it more difficult for you to conduct your routine financial transactions.

Sen. McCain has a record of promoting less financial regulation. That's not what the country needs right now. It's certainly not good for people who are most likely to face unfair discrimination or predatory loan practices from lending institutions. That, unfortunately, may include you.

Credit is one of those things we don't normally think about ... until it becomes a problem. Well, it's becoming a problem.

4. McCain/Palin Could Undermine Retiree Benefits

We know that Sen. McCain plans to tax working people's health insurance benefits for the first time. He proposes to replace a benefit worth about $12,000 for an active worker with tax credits worth $5,000 for a family and $2,500 for an individual.

We don't yet know whether McCain and Palin will tax health benefits that are provided through employer or union retirement plans, too. If they do, that will hit your wallet or pocketbook. But even if they don't, the net result of the McCain health plan will be to encourage healthier people in the workforce to drop their employer's coverage. That will force employers to cover a pool of sicker and costlier workers, driving up the overall costs for each employee still in their plan. Their benefit plans will run at an even greater deficit as a result.

Historically, employers have always looked to make up for these deficits in two ways: By cutting benefits for workers, or by cutting them for retirees. Usually, they do both. That could be bad news for a lot of older Americans.

5. Their Policies Would Be Hell On the Grandkids, Too.

More deficit spending. That's what we would see under McCain/Palin. They want to extend the tax giveaways to big corporations and the top 2% wealthiest people in America. They want to cut the capital gains tax, the lion's share of which is paid by millionaires. Not to mention the fact that they want to continue the war in Iraq, at a cost of $12 billion per month. (And talk about supporting the troops! The troops have done their job over there. Now let's bring them home. The real problem is that politicians haven't done their job and negotiated a withdrawal. They should stop trying to pin their own failures on our fighting men and women.)

All this spending will add trillions to the already-enormous national deficit (which was a surplus eight years ago, as we all remember.) That deficit isn't going to hurt you. Frankly, it's not going to hurt me very much either. But our children and grandchildren will be swamped with a lifetime of debt (some calculate the average now at over $700,000 per family.)

At this rate, younger Americans will never achieve the standard of living that your generation and mine enjoyed.

The short-term impact of this national debt will be toughest on the grandkids - the ones in college, the ones looking for their first jobs, the ones hoping to buy their first homes. Now, I don't know if you've heard about that horrible Sarah Silverman! She's the comedian who's telling grandchildren they should threaten not to come visit again this year if you don't vote for Obama. Who could say such a thing?

never suggest anything like that. But four more years of Republican policies will leave your grandkids so financially strapped they may not be able to afford another visit. I know how I miss my kids. (No grandkids yet, but my son and daughter are finally old enough for me to start pressuring them about it. I'm supposed to do that, right?)

We all want the best for the generations that follow us. A huge debt, most of which goes into the pockets of the wealthy, isn't the best we can provide.

We can do better. So I hope you'll join us on November 4 and vote for Barack Obama and the other Democratic candidates in your area. It's best for everyone. Really.

RJ Eskow blogs when he can at: