MCCAIN’S PLAN TO CUT MEDICARE…. Under John McCain’s healthcare plan, Americans would move away from an employer-based system, and instead get tax credits they’d take to the free market to buy insurance. We’ve talked several times of late about the overwhelming flaws in this approach.

But today, a different question comes to the fore. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that the McCain plan’s tax credits would cost $1.3 trillion over 10 years — and the McCain campaign insists it can account for every penny, and that the plan would be budget-neutral. Where would that money come from?

The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler has an important article this morning that explains exactly how McCain would pay for it — he’d cut Medicare and Medicaid by $1.3 trillion.

…Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Sen. McCain’s senior policy adviser, said Sunday that the campaign has always planned to fund the tax credits, in part, with savings from Medicare and Medicaid. Those government health-care programs serve seniors, poor families and the disabled. Medicare spending for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 is estimated at $457.5 billion.

Mr. Holtz-Eakin said the Medicare and Medicaid changes would improve the programs and eliminate fraud, but he didn’t detail where the cuts would come from…. Mr. Holtz-Eakin said the plan is accurately described as budget neutral because it assumes enough savings in Medicare and Medicaid spending to make up the difference. He said the savings would come from eliminating Medicare fraud and by reforming payment policies to lower the overall cost of care.

And if you think a McCain administration is going to find $1.3 trillion in Medicare by eliminating “fraud” and improving the payment system — without reducing benefits — I’ve got a bridge in Alaska I’d like to sell you.

Jonathan Cohn has a terrific item delving into the policy details here, but the political implications of all of this are pretty extraordinary. As Jonathan Chait explained, “John McCain proposes to cut Medicare and Medicaid in an election year. You can’t do that. That, alone, is enough to cost you an election.”

Quite right. This actually has the potential to be a game-changer. McCain’s actual policy, not a caricature of it, calls for massive cuts to Medicare. That’s not an attack; that’s his plan.

I might recommend that Democrats take this message to South Florida. I think there are a few voters there who might find this interesting.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.