POLITICS
07/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Talks Economy On CNN

John McCain appeared on today's CNN American Morning, ostensibly to talk economic policy with John Roberts. Over the course of the discussion, however, it was clear that McCain possessed more disputes than he did answers, continually dodging questions with either well-worn canards or topic-changes.

The central issue was how McCain could possibly keep the country's economic house in order with policies that would lead to escalating budget deficits. McCain's first response was to pooh-pooh the projections of the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which was too bad, considering their numbers -- deficits in the $439-445 billion range -- ended up being rosier than those of the more conservative Congressional Budget Office. That didn't deter McCain from repeating his famous diagnosis of economic woe: Congress has not restrained spending, and he would curb the profligacy. The only problem being that George W. Bush's White House took wasteful spending to unprecedented new heights, and, seeing how McCain would keep the country tied to Bush's policy priorities, it's hard to see how money would be saved. Maybe McCain's clipped some coupons or something!

Anyway, Roberts wasn't having it, telling McCain, "Senator, you can't get over the fact, though, that extending the Bush tax cuts, as you want to do, and adding in your tax cuts do take the deficit number -- we actually go from a $70 billion surplus to a $445 billion deficit." McCain responded that everything would be fine, because lowering taxes will increase revenue. Uhm...actually?. It will do no such thing.

Roberts came back with more mathematics: "It's just that I think some voters are legitimately asking the question that the amount of money that you need to save to get down to zero is the total amount of the nonsecurity discretionary budget now -- that the federal government operates on." McCain had no answer for this, except to mention that he goes to a lot of town hall meetings.

Of course, McCain's bete noire where government spending is concerned has been "earmarks" - a practice that McCain has vowed to end. But Roberts jumped him with an earmark of his own:

ROBERTS: Senator, on this issue of earmarks that you talk about frequently, you reiterated that you've never take an earmark. Can you clarify something? Back in 1992, you were trying to get $5 million for a wastewater treatment plans in Nogales. You tried to get it through Congress, they wouldn't put it through Congress, so you sent a letter to then-president George H.W. Bush, where you quote, "I would like to request that EPA either reprogram $5 million out of existing funds, or earmark the amount from an appropriate account, to meet the wastewater treatment needs at the Nogales plant." Was that an earmark?

MCCAIN: Of course, not. It was a request to have it put in the President's budget. And that's a very legitimate request that the administration will ask for. The definition of an earmark is a program that is put in, and money that is put in an unauthorized fashion in the middle of the night. So no, it's not that, and it's not the same.

Middle of the night, eh? Maybe that's why whenever McCain is pressed to name an earmark he might cut, he can never come up with an answer - it's too dark for McCain to find any! Hopefully, he'll leave enough money in the budget for a flashlight.

[WATCH.]

ROBERTS: I checked the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan organization. They project that by extending the president's tax cuts, which you want to do, and adding in the tax cuts that you're proposing, the deficit for the year 2013 would be somewhere around $439 to $445 billion. So I think it is a fair question to ask, how would you get that number down to zero?

MCCAIN: First, I suggest you check in with other organizations. But the fact is there's a whole lot of economists, including Nobel laureates that agree with my plan. We're going to reach restrained spending, we're going to have the economy grow again and increase revenues. The problem is that spending got completely out of control. We grew government by some 40% since the Great Society. The spending got out of control, we restrained spending, we keep people's taxes low. We create jobs, 700,000 jobs by building new nuclear power plants, 20,000 new jobs by coal gasification, so that we have clean coal technologies, new automotive technologies, and we'll balance the budget. The same outfit said that we could never balance the budget in the past. We certainly have. It's spending that's out of control, my friend.

ROBERTS: I also checked with the Congressional Budget Office and the Center for Budget and Policy Priority's numbers were more conservative, they were lower than the CBO's numbers. The CBO's numbers are higher.

MCCAIN: Again, they're static numbers. Not saying that revenues will increase with a strong economy and with low taxes. That's the difference. and I respectfully disagree.

ROBERTS: Senator, you can't get over the fact, though, that extending the Bush tax cuts, as you want to do, and adding in your tax cuts do take the deficit number -- we actually go from a $70 billion surplus to a $445 billion deficit.

MCCAIN: You can't seem to get over the fact that it's spending that's out of control. And you restrain spending and also you can't get over the fact that historically when you raise people's taxes, guess what, revenue goes down. Every time we cut capital gains taxes, there has been an increase in revenue. I'm glad to have this discussion with you, and obviously you disagree, but the facts are that when you keep taxes low, when you restrain spending, as we did in 1982 when Ronald Reagan came to office, then the economy grows. We've created 46 million new jobs since 1982, because of lower taxes, but the spending got out of control, and that obviously caused the deficit, which then caused us to have to borrow money from China, et cetera, et cetera. And that's our problem that we have today, is spending and not keeping taxes low and stimulating the economy.

ROBERTS: Senator, with respect, I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just laying out some facts that some analytical organizations have put out there. The amount of money that you need to save--

MCCAIN: Actually, what you're laying out is a very different opinion. I have a large number of economists who agree with my point of view and I hope you'll consult with them as well. I'm sure you will, John.

ROBERTS: It's just that I think some voters are legitimately asking the question that the amount of money that you need to save to get down to zero is the total amount of the nonsecurity discretionary budget now -- that the federal government operates on.

MCCAIN: Actually, what I'm hearing from voters right now is that they're worried about keeping their job, they want to keep their taxes low, they're worried about health care, they're worried about staying in their home, and they want to us figure out -- that's what I'm hearing from voters all over America as I do town hall meetings everywhere. That's what I'm hearing from them, that's what I'm going to address. We can do it through growing our economy and creating new jobs.

ROBERTS: Senator, I'm sure you're also hearing from them about social security. Because part of this plan, if you're going to balance the budget, is to reform social security. You've talked about the idea of private accounts, as President Bush tried to get through and couldn't. What else would you do to reform social security?

MCCAIN: I would sit down with Democrats and Republicans the way Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did in 1983. And they said, okay, we've got everything on the table here, let's come to an agreement. The approval rating of congress right now is 12% last time I saw. I know how to work across the aisle, I've done it with Democrats and I've done it for many, many years. We'll sit down across the table with the backing of the American people.

ROBERTS: Do you have any idea --

MCCAIN: On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money, which is their taxes, and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retiree or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of president-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it. We can do it together, Republicans and Democrats alike.

ROBERTS: Senator, on this issue of earmarks that you talk about frequently, you reiterated that you've never take an earmark. Can you clarify something? Back in 1992, you were trying to get $5 million for a wastewater treatment plans in Nogales. You tried to get it through Congress, they wouldn't put it through Congress, so you sent a letter to then-president George H.W. Bush, where you quote, "I would like to request that EPA either reprogram $5 million out of existing funds, or earmark the amount from an appropriate account, to meet the wastewater treatment needs at the Nogales plant." Was that an earmark?

MCCAIN: Of course, not. It was a request to have it put in the President's budget. And that's a very legitimate request that the administration will ask for. The definition of an earmark is a program that is put in, and money that is put in an unauthorized fashion in the middle of the night. So no, it's not that, and it's not the same.

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