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Monday, July 07, 2008

McCain's Continuous Flip-Flopping

At first, John McCain said he'd balance the budget by the end of his first term. But when pressed last April, he changed his stance:

Sen. McCain has backed off his earlier promise to eliminate the budget deficit by the end of his first term and now says it may take two terms.

Today his stance changed again:

Mr. McCain is now pledging once again to balance the budget by the end of his first term in 2013, his advisers said Monday. In doing so, they were reverting to an earlier pledge that Mr. McCain had abandoned in April, when he proposed a series of costly tax cuts and said, citing the ailing economy, that it might take two terms to balance the budget.

Funny thing is, he's flip-flopping between promises to balance the budget that, given his other pledges, are not credible. Brad DeLong:

To John McCain's promises to (a) wage more wars abroad and (b) cut taxes for the rich while (c) limiting domestic spending cuts to waste, fraud, and abuse he has now added a promise to balance the budget by 2013--a promise that his substantive policy advisors had been trying to keep him from making all winter and spring. Their view was that George H.W. Bush's promise in 1988 not to raise taxes had brought him little short run political gain and had done so at the price of making his presidency a failure (cf Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes).

Why might McCain do this?:

Mr. McCain’s tax cut proposals have won over some of his erstwhile supply-side critics. Last year the Club for Growth, a prominent group that advocates tax cuts, issued a paper headlined “John McCain is No Supply-Sider”... Now Pat Toomey, the president of the group, said that Mr. McCain’s recent tax cut proposals indicate that supply-siders are getting the upper hand.

“Is John McCain a supply-sider in his bones?” Mr. Toomey asked. “I’m not sure he is. But I do support the positions he has been taking.”


Mr. McCain, who has been dogged by his own past statements that he does not understand the economy as well as he should, has not always spoken fluently about economic policy during the campaign.

When he was asked at a town hall-style meeting in Connecticut in April whether he wanted to “raise taxes, cut entitlement spending, cut defense spending, or have a deficit,” Mr. McCain spoke generally about emulating President Ronald Reagan, not mentioning that the deficit nearly tripled during the Reagan presidency.

Some statements from the McCain campaign appear to be more than just confusion. Jared Bernstein:

They're Lying: The debate over the economy swung into high gear today as both presidential candidates gave speeches on the topic. That's as it should be: let this critical debate begin.

What's not okay is that one candidate -- John McCain -- and his team are making up damaging stuff that directly contradicts policies Obama has been crystal clear about. ...

McCain and Obama have very different economic plans, particularly regarding tax policy... They have every right to go forth and build support for their plans and attack the other guy's. But this is not the way to do it. If McCain and his staff persist in twisting the truth like this, there can be no decent debate. It's a terrible disservice to the electorate and an abrogation of anything resembling straight talk.

Giving in to the "tax cuts pay for themselves" crowd, not understanding economic principles enough to see the consequences of the economic policies he supports, and the tactics he is using are all worrisome. McCain doesn't get economics, he's willing to take positions of convenience rather than principle, and he's willing to use distortions of the truth to sell his policies. That's a bad combination.

Updates: Robert Reich:

George W. Bush took the largest budget surplus in history and transformed it into a giant deficit. McCain's economic plan, announced today, will do even worse. McCain says he’s going to balance the budget by the end of his first term (actually, he didn’t literally say that – he just “demanded” it – implying that a Democratically-controlled Congress would be ultimately responsible if it didn't happen). And then McCain came up with numbers that will blow the deficit into the stratosphere. ...

The big question is how he proposes to fill the giant budget hole he’s dug for himself, over and above the $443 billion already there. Answer: He doesn’t say. He calls for $160 billion in unspecified spending cuts, and unspecified “reform” of entitlements. Whaaaa?

Supply-side economics is one of those unfortunate half-brained theories actually to have been tried in practice, and failed miserably. Now we have a candidate for president of the United States who says to the American people, in effect: I know you know supply-side economics is a crock. Well, I’m going to do the biggest supply-side tax cut in history, mostly for corporations and the well-to-do. And I’m going to tell you I’ll balance the budget. If you believe this, you’ll believe anything.

Brad DeLong:

Cr--! Robert Pear of the New York Times called, looking for a soundbite on McCain's budget policy. I blathered on, while the perfect soundbite was waiting in my email inbox, unread.

It was:

Underpants Gnomes.

You all remember the plan of the Underpants Gnomes from South Park:

  1. Collect underpants.
  2. ?
  3. Profit!

That's the perfect analogy for John McCain's budget policy:

  1. Cut taxes and spend more on the military.
  2. ?
  3. Balanced budget!!

Memo to self: read email from persons known to be witty before talking to reporters, not after...

Economist Mom:

...[I]t doesn’t take long to go through the document... A few initial reactions... The most annoying passage is found in the so-called “Bi-partisan Fiscal Discipline” section on page 5...:

Bi-partisan Fiscal Discipline: A McCain Administration will provide the leadership to achieve bipartisan spending restraint equivalent to that in the 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement between a GOP Congress and a Democratic President.

  • In 1997, President Clinton and the GOP Congress agreed to balance the budget by restraining the growth in spending and cutting taxes over a ten-year period.
  • With the same bipartisan effort today ... we could keep taxes low and still balance the budget by holding overall spending growth to 2.4 percent. Unlike Congress and the Executive branch in recent years, a McCain Administration will enforce the spending restraint to balance the budget and keep it balanced.
  • A McCain Administration would perform a comprehensive review of all programs, projects and activities of the federal government, and then propose a plan to modernize, streamline, consolidate, reprioritize and, where needed, terminate individual programs. ...
  • A McCain Administration will review all special spending provisions to end subsidies to high-income individuals and corporations.

First, the Clinton Administration did not achieve fiscal discipline by restraining spending and “cutting taxes.” The Clinton Administration made the tough choices (and earlier than 1997) to restrain spending and raise taxes in order to achieve meaningful deficit reduction through both the spending and revenues side of the budget.

Second, how is it “bipartisan” to continue to take the hard line that all the fiscal restraint has to come from the spending side of the budget? ...

Third, ... the tax proposals don’t provide for revenue-neutral, efficiency-enhancing tax changes (the types of changes characteristic of fundamental tax reforms), only revenue-losing, deficit-increasing ones–i.e., a continuation of Bush Administration tax policy.

Yet curiously, nowhere in their economic document does the McCain campaign specifically mention”permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts”–which we know to be a key part of their economic platform, at least as constantly explained to their “base,” if not spelled out to the general public here (wink wink). Could it be that they don’t want to call attention to the fact that the “meat” of the McCain economic plan,when you get past the fluff (distractions?) of the waste, fraud, and abuse-type spending cuts (that don’t amount to “beans”),is really just continuing the Bush tax cuts?

There’s now a list of economistswho endorse the McCain economic plan up on the Jobs for America website–including at least a couple whom I greatly respect. I would love for any of them to explain to me how they believe this plan realistically, and wisely,would eliminate the budget deficit in four years, and how any of them who might be less than thrilled with theBush Administration’s record onfiscal policy can read between the lines (and fluff) of this McCain plan and see anything substantially different.

    Posted by on Monday, July 7, 2008 at 07:11 PM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)


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