Where They Stand: A Political "Third Rail"

Nancy Cordes is the Transportation and Consumer Safety Correspondent for CBS News.
Medicare is a lifeline for 45 million American seniors. But costs for the government program are exploding. Medicare now consumes a startling 16 percent of the federal budget.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have warned that without significant changes, Medicare will either go bankrupt in 10 years ... or swallow up the entire budget.

So, what would each candidate do to fix Medicare? Despite the magnitude of the problem, it's not a topic either man talks about much on the campaign trail. That's partly because Medicare reform has long been considered the "third rail" of politics – something candidates steer clear of addressing, for fear of alienating the single largest voting bloc: seniors.

So while both Obama and McCain have laid out some significant reform proposals, most Americans probably couldn't say what they are.

Tonight on the CBS Evening News, we're taking a look at Where They Stand on Medicare, through the eyes of three generations of women in one family. Eighty-eight-year-old Ruth relies on Medicare for her very survival. It's been a godsend for this cancer survivor. But her daughters, Ruthie and Donna, worry that Medicare will cost more and cover less for them than it did for their mother. Jump down a generation, and 38-year-old granddaughter, Debbie, is even more skeptical that Medicare will be there for her.

We'll examine how Obama and McCain's plans might affect their family and other Americans. With the first of 78 million baby boomers set to turn 65 – the age of eligibility for Medicare – in just two years, it's an issue the next president can't afford to ignore.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.