CNN's Tom Foreman uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's claim that he voted against President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts because "he wanted reductions in spending, too." But in a 2001 floor statement explaining his opposition, McCain did not mention the absence of offsetting spending cuts; rather, he stated, "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."
On the February 18 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, correspondent Tom Foreman uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's claim that he voted against President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts because "he wanted reductions in spending, too." Foreman, in a report billed as a CNN "Keeping Them Honest" segment, examined McCain's allegedly conservative positions on tax policy, during which he stated that "some conservatives are uncertain about his beliefs [on tax cuts], even now, since McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003." Foreman then stated that "McCain says he did so because he wanted reductions in spending, too." In fact, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, in a May 2001 floor statement explaining his opposition to the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) conference committee report -- the final version of Bush's initial tax-cut package -- McCain did not mention the absence of offsetting spending cuts. In that statement, McCain said that while he supported an earlier version of the bill "that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans," he could not "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." At the time, then-CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl reported that "there were two Republicans voting no" on EGTRRA, including McCain, "who was concerned about too much tax cuts for the wealthy." Karl did not report that McCain had said anything about a lack of "reductions in spending" in the bill.
In his 2001 floor statement, which McCain made on the day the final bill passed, he suggested that neither the cost of the tax cut nor the spending restrictions that would result were the deciding factor behind his opposition. Said McCain: "I supported a $1.35 trillion tax cut" -- referring to his support for the Senate version of the EGTRRA (known as the RELIEF Act) -- "despite my concern that a tax cut of that size would restrict our ability to fund necessary increases in defense spending." The conference committee version of EGTRRA -- the one McCain said he was voting against -- also had a 10-year total estimated cost of $1.35 trillion.
After opposing the tax cuts in 2001, McCain also voted against legislation in 2003 to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut dividends and capital-gains taxes. On the April 11, 2004, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain said, "I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthy Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit. But the middle-income tax credits, the families, the child tax credits, the marriage tax credits, all of those I would keep." However, in February of 2006, he switched positions and voted against eliminating a House provision that extended the 2003 tax cuts on capital gains and dividends through 2010. When asked during the April 2, 2006, broadcast of Meet the Press why he had changed his mind, McCain replied: "I do not believe in tax increases. ... The tax cuts are now there and voting to revoke them would have been to -- not to extend them would have meant a tax increase." In May 2006, he voted for the final version of the tax bill, which contained the capital gains and dividend tax-cut extension.
From the February 18 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:
ANDERSON COOPER (host): President George Bush there -- former President Bush -- endorsing John McCain earlier today in Houston. Mr. Bush calling questions about Senator McCain's conservatism -- quote -- "absurd."
And one pillar of modern conservatism is tax-cutting, or, at the very least, promising to. The first President Bush did, but he had a tough time sticking to it. Now, Senator McCain is talking the same talk.
We wanted to know: Can voters reasonably expect him to walk the walk?
"Keeping Them Honest" tonight -- CNN's Tom Foreman.
[begin video clip]
FOREMAN: In the presidential horse race, it is an attractive and risky gamble, and John McCain is placing his bet.
McCAIN: No new taxes.
FOREMAN: But "Keeping Them Honest," can he keep that promise? Some economists say, "Not likely."
ROBERT GREENSTEIN (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities executive director): The problems in the future are so large that it's pretty unthinkable we could close those deficits either by just cutting programs or just raising taxes. We're going to have to do both sooner or later.
FOREMAN: Among costs hammering the budget: the war, a half-trillion dollars so far, by some estimates; that economic stimulus plan, $168 billion; soaring entitlements for baby boomers; interest on the national debt -- all that with no new taxes? Democrats say, "Get real."
PETER FENN (Democratic strategist): That would take an act of magic, not an act of Congress. He cannot do it unless he does something very radical, like cut Social Security, cut Medicare, and he's not going to do that.
FOREMAN: Last year, McCain was attacked because he would not sign a pledge against higher taxes.
And some conservatives are uncertain about his beliefs, even now, since McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. McCain says he did so because he wanted reductions in spending, too.
He still thinks spending cuts should lead the way to a balanced budget, but now he also wants to make the Bush cuts permanent. Republicans like that.
RICH GALEN (Republican strategist): I not only think that it's possible to keep taxes low, but I think it's desirable. And, even in the face of a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, a president who is devoted to cutting unnecessary spending really does have a lot of tools in his tool kit.
FOREMAN: Still, 20 years ago, George H.W. Bush accepted his party's nomination with these words.
BUSH: Read my lips: no new taxes.
FOREMAN: Read the record: He broke that promise. Now, he's endorsing McCain, and Republicans hope, this time, they can keep their man honest, and he'll keep his word.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
[end video clip]
COOPER: Well, before we dig deeper into reading lips and raising taxes, some new polling on the Republican side.