By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Sen. John McCain pledged yesterday that he would balance the federal budget by 2013, the end of what would be his first term in office, returning to a promise he had strayed from as he sought to emphasize his concern about the plight of the U.S. economy.
In his first public event since shuffling his campaign leadership last week, McCain gave a speech in Denver before holding a town-hall meeting that aides said would focus on "Jobs for America."
"At its core, the economy isn't the sum of an array of bewildering statistics," he told the crowd. "It's about where Americans work, how they live, how they pay their bills today and save for tomorrow. It's about small businesses opening their doors, hiring employees and growing."
At the same time, McCain's campaign released a document detailing his already announced economic proposals: more offshore oil drilling and a gas-tax holiday; aggressive efforts to control government spending; lower taxes for businesses and individuals; new energy research; and tax credits to spur a private health insurance market.
His promise to balance the budget within four years brought him full circle. Earlier this year, he had chosen his words carefully on the topic, saying only that he would accomplish the task by the end of eight years, should he be elected and reelected.
Yesterday, he pledged that "the near-term path to balance is built on three principles: reasonable economic growth, comprehensive spending controls, and bipartisanship in budget efforts."
In the economic white paper his campaign released yesterday, he acknowledges that "the only way to keep the budget balanced is successful reform of the large spending pressures in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid." But he did not offer details about how he would achieve those reforms.
McCain has said he would control the deficit with economic growth and by reducing wasteful spending in the military and in discretionary programs.
Democrats immediately criticized McCain, asserting that his promise is unrealistic, given his stated goals of tax cuts and other government spending. Sen. Barack Obama accused his rival of peddling tired economic policies.
"John McCain's policies are essentially a repeat, a regurgitation of what we've been hearing from the Republican Party over the last two decades, maybe three," he said. "It's part of the reason that we're in the situation that we find ourselves in right now."