Barack Obama is on day five of his economic tour of battleground states today, appearing with his wife Michelle in Columbus, Ohio, and highlighting differences with Republican rival John McCain on Social Security.
The event is also part of his mending fences tour because it also features Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a fierce supporter of Hillary Clinton who helped her to a campaign-prolonging win in Ohio's primary on March 4.
Strickland hails from -- and draws strong support from -- rural southern Ohio, home to the kind of blue-collar white voters who emerged as a key part of Clinton's base and who Obama struggled mightily to attract. Strickland was also thought of as a possible running mate, but this week he unequivocally took himself out of the running before he was even asked.
In his speech, Obama pledged to protect Social Security "today, tomorrow, and forever" -- and hit McCain for being open to private savings accounts to supplement the retirement benefits.
"Privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it. It's a bad idea today," Obama said, also accusing McCain of incorrectly claiming at a New Hampshire town hall meeting on Thursday that he had always been against it.
Obama also promoted his proposal to help shore up Social Security by levying further taxes on income above $250,000 a year. Now, the first $102,000 in income is taxed. Under his proposal, that wouldn't change, and income between $102,000 and $250,000 also wouldn't be taxed.
"Right now, the Social Security payroll tax is capped," Obama said in prepared remarks. "That means most middle-class families pay this tax on every dime they make, while millionaires and billionaires are only paying it on a very small percentage of their income. That’s why I think the best way forward is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like me pay a little bit more and people in need are protected. That way we can extend the promise of Social Security without shifting the burden on to seniors. And we should exempt anyone making under $250,000 from this increase so that the change doesn’t burden middle-class Americans. This means that 97% of Americans will see absolutely no change in their taxes under my plan – 97%."
UPDATE: McCain denied again today that he wants to privatize Social Security.
"We have to fix Social Security, and we have to fix Medicare," he said at a town hall meeting in New Jersey. "....My friends, I do not and will not privatize Social Security. It is a government program, and it is necessary, but it's broken. We've got to tell the American people that we got to fix it. And we got to sit down together, the way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did back in 1983 and fix Social Security. But my friends, I will not privatize Social Security, and it's not true when I'm accused of that, but I would like for younger workers, younger workers only, to have an opportunity to take a few of their tax dollars, a few of theirs, and maybe put it into an account with their name on it. That's their money. That's their money. So when I say that, so when I say that, please don't -- please don't let them twist that as they have others. It's their money. It's their money. It's your money. And we will make sure that present day retirees, I will commit, have the benefits that they have earned. And nothing any proposal would change that."
Republicans have already issued a pre-buttal to Obama's appearance.
"Barack Obama is coming to Ohio talking about raising capital gains tax, eliminating the cap on Social Security, raising other taxes and fees -- which candidly the citizen of the state of Ohio and the small businesses, the real creators of jobs in the state of Ohio, are least able to afford," Ohio GOP Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine told reporters on a conference call. "We think what Barack Obama offers to people of Ohio is a risky proposition. And we know the voters in Ohio are sophisticated voters, they have seen their share of hotly contested races, and we believe they will see, just as Governor Strickland did during the primaries, they will see through the fluff as Gov. Strickland called it during the primaries, and not be easily swayed by Barack Obama and his policies that will be harmful to our economy."
The McCain campaign today also questioned the impact of Obama's tax proposals on seniors, including those who rely on Social Security.
While Obama proposes to eliminate income taxes on seniors with less than $50,000 a year in income, McCain's campaign cited an analysis that Obama's plans would increase the tax bills for 10 million senior households, in part because of his proposal to raise capital gains taxes, which would apply to stock dividends that seniors receive.
"Barack Obama likes to think that his tax increases will only hit a few Americans, but in truth, his economic plan will be a disaster for everyone, especially seniors," Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman, said in a statement. "Because of Barack Obama's tax increases, one out of every three senior households will end up paying higher taxes. That's not change we can believe in when so many seniors are struggling to cope with higher gas prices and food prices. The last thing we need to do is raise their taxes. Unfortunately, all too often, that is the first thing Barack Obama will do."
The Republican National Committee also sent around a video clip of Hillary Clinton criticizing Obama's Social Security plan. "I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don't think we need to do that," she said during a Democratic debate last November.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.