McCain Offers Tax Policies He Once Opposed
Friday, April 25, 2008
On May 26, 2001, after then-Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) cast his vote against President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut, he trudged back to his office, convinced, he recalled, that he had been the lone Republican to oppose the largest tax cut in two decades.
But Chafee's staff told him that one other Republican, who had largely avoided the grueling efforts at compromise, had joined him in dissent. That senator, John McCain, was marching to his own beat, Chafee said, impervious to pressure from either side.
Now that he is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, however, McCain is marching straight down the party line. The economic package he has laid out embraces many of the tax policies he once decried: extending Bush's tax cuts he voted against, offering investment tax breaks he once believed would have little economic benefit and granting the long-held wishes of tax lobbyists he has often mocked.
McCain's concerns -- about budget deficits, unanticipated defense costs, an Iraq war that would be longer and more costly than advertised -- have proved eerily prescient, usually a plus for politicians who are quick to say they were right when others were wrong. Yet McCain appears determined to leave such predictions behind.
"He's looking forward, not back," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior policy adviser.
To supporters, McCain has simply seen the light and now understands the power that business tax relief has to spur economic growth and innovation. Said J.D. Foster, a former Bush White House and Treasury tax policy expert, now at the Heritage Foundation: "It's logical that he wouldn't be repeating the arguments he made then. We all learn from experience."
To critics, it is political pandering. "It's just part of the new John McCain that's taking on the conventional wisdom that in tight races, you have to energize the base and win by 50.000001 percent," Chafee said. "I was frankly surprised that he's kept it up after securing the nomination. I thought he'd move to the center, and I haven't seen it."
Holtz-Eakin urged skeptics to "wind the clock way back," saying McCain has supported lower taxes and a smaller federal government throughout his political career.
But McCain's conflicts with fellow Republicans over taxes date back well before his differences with Bush. In December 1994, after his party swept to control of Congress on tax-cut promises, he challenged Ronald Reagan's legacy when he warned, "I think we would be making a terrible mistake to go back to the '80s, where we cut all of those taxes and all of a sudden now we've got a debt that we've got to pay on an annual basis that is bigger than the amount that we spend on defense."
In 1998, Republican leaders and their tobacco industry allies lambasted McCain's $516 billion tobacco regulation bill as the "McCain tax," painting it as big-government overreach and a $1.10 tax increase on every pack of cigarettes.
"This bill is not about taxes," he pleaded, just before the measure fell to a Republican filibuster. "It's about whether we're going to allow the death march of 418,000 Americans a year who die early from tobacco-related disease and do nothing."
In 2001, just days before Bush's first tax cut passed, McCain lamented on ABC's "This Week" that, "I'd like to see much more of this tax cut shared by working Americans. . . . I think it still devotes too much of it to the wealthiest Americans."