DAYTONA BEACH, Florida - Democrat Barack Obama accused Republican presidential rival John McCain on Saturday of wanting to gamble with the retirement savings and health care of Americans by subjecting them to the uncertainty of open markets.
As the government prepared another costly bailout of the reeling U.S. financial system, Obama said McCain's support for privatizing Social Security and opening up the health care system to market forces would put Americans at financial risk.
He attacked McCain for supporting some privatization of Social Security retirement funds, a proposal President George W. Bush made a centerpiece of his 2004 White House campaign but was unable to push through Congress.
"I know Senator McCain is talking about a 'casino culture' on Wall Street -- but the fact is, he's the one who wants to gamble with your life savings," Obama said at a rally in Daytona Beach in Florida, a state with a large population of seniors and retired workers.
"That is not going to happen when I'm president," the Illinois senator said, asking the crowd to imagine the fears of retirees who found their Social Security funds tied to the current market.
"We're not going to gamble with your ability to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work. We're going to strengthen and protect Social Security so it's a safety net our families can count on -- today, tomorrow and always," he said.
The latest political skirmishing came as the Bush administration readied a $700 billion financial markets rescue plan for Congress that would almost certainly restrict the agenda and limit the number of costly programs advocated by whoever becomes the next president.
The turmoil on Wall Street recently has dominated the campaign for the November 4 presidential election, with McCain and Obama trading attacks over who offered the best economic approach.
The McCain campaign said Obama was trying to scare Florida's senior citizens about their retirement accounts.
"John McCain is 100 percent committed to preserving Social Security benefits for seniors, and Barack Obama knows it -- this is a desperate attempt to gain political advantage using scare tactics and deceit," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
McCain has generally taken an anti-regulatory stance, and has decried the Wall Street greed he says led to the financial meltdown. But Obama dismissed the Arizona senator's attempts to recast himself as a proponent of regulating financial markets.
"There's only one candidate who's called himself 'fundamentally a deregulator' when deregulation is part of the problem," Obama said.
He criticized McCain for writing in a magazine that his health care plan would do for that industry what deregulation had done for banking. He said McCain wanted to run health care the way Wall Street has been run.
"Well, Senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren't going to think that's such a good idea," he said.
McCain's health care plan would use tax credits to help shift from employer-based insurance coverage to an open market system where people can choose from competing policies. In the current issue of "Contingencies," the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries, McCain touts his approach.
"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation," McCain wrote.
The McCain campaign said he was specifically talking about a proposal to allow consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines, which would create more options and drive down costs.
Obama's health-care plan would keep the existing job-based insurance system but expand government involvement in a public-private system aimed at eventually covering 47 million uninsured Americans.