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Obama, McCain Spar on Social Security


U.S. presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain have been campaigning in some of the states where the November election is likely to be decided. Both took time Saturday to address a meeting of an influential organization that represents senior citizens. VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington.

Older Americans are usually the most dependable voters in presidential elections, going to the polls in large numbers. Both Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his Republican rival John McCain addressed older people's concerns Saturday in speeches via satellite to a meeting of AARP, an advocacy group for Americans 50 years and older.

On a video hookup from the Eastern state of New Jersey, Obama criticized McCain's approach to Social Security, saying his Republican opponent would undermine the government program to supplement retirees' income.

"That does not mean embracing George Bush's failed privatization scheme, as John McCain has. Privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George Bush proposed it, and it is a bad idea today. It would take the one rock-solid, guaranteed part of your retirement income and gamble it on the stock market. And that is why I stood with AARP against this plan in the Senate, and that is why I will not stand for it as president of the United States."

McCain has not specifically endorsed plans to privatize Social Security, but he has said he would consider a wide range of options for changing the system. Via satellite from the Western state of Colorado, the Arizona senator reassured the AARP members that he would protect the Social Security system.

"I am committed to protecting and preserving Social Security. I will protect it and preserve it, and I will not hand off to an unluckier generation a system that is broken--I promise you that."

Both senators also promised to reform the U.S health care system. Obama said he would try to reduce the cost of medicine for older people by allowing the government to directly negotiate prices with drug companies. He also promised a wider choice of health coverage.

"If you like the health care that you have, then you will see lower premiums under my plan. But if you do not have health care, you will be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves.

McCain said he plans to reform health care by more closely regulating the private companies involved in the system.

"As president, I will ensure genuine and effective health care reform that requires accountability from everyone--drug companies, insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and the government. We will have better care at lower cost for all Americans."

From New Jersey, Obama took his campaign to the central state of Indiana on Saturday. McCain and his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, campaigned together in the Western states of Colorado and New Mexico.

Polls taken after the Republican convention either show the two candidates in a tie, or Obama with a slight lead.

Also Saturday, McCain and Obama said they would appear together in New York on September eleventh, at the place where terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center seven years earlier. The two candidates also agreed to suspend television advertising critical of each other on September eleventh.

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