Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to members of the media after a weekly GOP luncheon meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Nov. 14. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Columnist

Many are looking to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to help tank the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad tax bill currently being jammed through the Senate. But will he?

On the one hand, this bill is being rushed through to a potential vote without benefit of much public deliberation, details on possible last-minute concessions to other Republican senators or even (so far) a full estimate of what it would cost. And McCain has complained in the past about a lack of “regular order”; that’s part of the reason he voted against repealing Obamacare.

Unfortunately, several weeks ago he also endorsed the process by which the Senate tax bill was forging forward. Which is discouraging if you want him to go all maverick-y this time, too.

Lest opponents of this bill lose hope, though, it’s worth remembering that McCain also voted against the big Bush tax cuts. He was one of only two Republicans in the Senate who voted against the first round of cuts in 2001, and one of three who did so for the second round in 2003.

Why did he reject his party’s main policy priority back then? Why, those tax cuts were simply too plutocratic.

Listen to this interview he did on “Meet the Press” in 2004. (Hat tip to the producers of WNYC’c “The Brian Lehrer Show,” which played the audio in a segment I participated in this morning.)

Asked about whether then-President George W. Bush should delay his tax cuts while the country was at war, McCain said, “I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthiest Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit.” He added that he would support expanding tax credits that benefited middle-income American families.

That’s not the only time he criticized the Bush tax cuts as too top-heavy.

In a 2000 Republican presidential primary debate, he argued that Bush’s proposed tax plan primarily benefited the rich.

“Your tax plan has 36 percent of it going to the richest 1 percent in America. I don’t do that. I think that we ought to give the tax relief to the people that need it the most,” he said.

For context: In its analysis of the Senate tax bill being debated now, the Tax Policy Center estimates that 62 percent of tax cuts would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans by 2027. So, a little more egregious than the proposal McCain rejected nearly two decades ago.

In the years following that 2000 debate, McCain made his disdain for the Bush tax cuts known again and again.

“I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief,” he said on the Senate floor in 2001, when the first Bush tax cuts were up for consideration.

On the Senate floor in 2003, he called the second round of Bush tax cuts a “so-called growth bill.” He complained that “The only thing growing will be the tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens of this country.”

In a 2005 Wall Street Journal interview with Stephen Moore, he said he thought the Bush tax cuts were “too tilted to the wealthy, and I still do.” He added, “We have a wealth gap in this country, and that worries me.”

You get the idea.

By the time he ran as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, McCain had of course changed his tune. But then he was seeking higher political office, on the ticket of a party that had made tax cuts its signature issue; given his current health problems, his political pressures and priorities may have changed since then.

Lately McCain has said he’s still undecided about how he’ll vote, but that he has reservations.

“A lot of things” could mean, well, a lot of things. I suspect that if McCain ultimately does decide to vote against this bill, his cited reason would be its fiscal irresponsibility and not its distributional impact. After all, deficits — not class warfare — are the common concern cited by the hawkish Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) who, like McCain, are also free to vote their conscience because they’re not running again. My prediction is that these three will all end up voting the same way, whether that happens to be yea or nay, and with the same justification.