PolitiFact.com falsely claimed McCain opposed 2001 Bush tax cuts because they should be "balanced by spending cuts"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

PolitiFact.com asserted that "[i]n 2001, [Sen. John] McCain voted against a $1.35-trillion tax cut package, arguing that the tax cuts should be balanced by spending cuts." This assertion is false. While McCain now claims that was his reason for voting against the tax cuts in 2001, that was not the reason he gave at the time of the vote itself. In a floor statement, 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."

During the January 25 edition of MSNBC Live, PolitiFact.com editor Bill Adair discussed his website's fact-check of a statement made during the January 24 Republican presidential debate by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: "Now, I also support the Bush tax cuts. Sen. [John] McCain [R-AZ] voted against them originally. He now believes they should be made permanent. I'm glad he agrees they should be made permanent." In a portion of the fact-check that appeared on PolitiFact.com but was not discussed on MSNBC, the website asserted that "[i]n 2001, McCain voted against a $1.35-trillion tax cut package, arguing that the tax cuts should be balanced by spending cuts." This assertion is false. While McCain responded to Romney's assertion during the debate by claiming that he opposed the Bush tax cuts because he "knew that unless we had spending under control, we were going to face a disaster," that was not the reason he gave at the time of the 2001 vote itself. During the May 2001 Senate debate on the conference committee report of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA), McCain made a floor statement in which he explained his vote against the bill. McCain did not mention the absence of offsetting spending cuts; rather, he said that while he supported an earlier version of the bill "that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans," "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." McCain reiterated this position in an April 11, 2004, interview on NBC's Meet the Press, saying: "I would have -- I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthy Americans."

Moreover, in the same floor statement, McCain suggested that neither the cost of the tax cut nor the spending restrictions that would result were the deciding factor behind his opposition to the EGTRRA conference report. McCain stated: "I supported a $1.35 trillion tax cut" -- referring to his support for the Senate's 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, which McCain said he was voting against, also had a 10-year total estimated cost of $1.35 trillion.

According to its website, PolitiFact.com is "a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly to help you find the truth in the presidential campaign."

During his appearance on MSNBC Live, Adair misleadingly stated: "McCain did vote against the Bush tax cuts initially. And McCain's reasoning at the time was we were at war and we could not afford to cut taxes without corresponding cuts in programs." In the floor statement McCain made during the May 2003 Senate debate on the conference committee report of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, McCain did mention "the cost of the war" and "growing deficits" as reasons he would not be supporting the bill. McCain stated that "in a time where we are also facing growing deficits and must also pay for the cost of the war, what the conferees did in the interest of 'getting a deal' was the height of irresponsibility." However, as he did in 2001, McCain also decried the targeting of the 2003 tax cuts toward the wealthy, saying of "this so-called growth bill": "The only thing growing will be the tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens of this country."

From McCain's May 23, 2003, floor statement:

Mr. President, I am extremely disappointed for our brave military men and women that the conferees for the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 decided to omit the Senate-passed Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act of 2003 from the conference report.

I offered an amendment to the tax bill that would add the Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act of 2003, which has been previously passed by the Senate. The amendment was accepted by unanimous consent. Since this legislation has already passed numerous times in the Senate, I believed that the conferees would include this important legislation for our military in the conference report without hesitation. But again, politics ruled the day.

Despite the recent successful war in Iraq, which highlighted the bravery and sacrifice of our military, the conferees provided nothing for them in this so-called growth bill. The only thing growing will be the tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens of this country. And in a time where we are also facing growing deficits and must also pay for the cost of the war, what the conferees did in the interest of "getting a deal'' was the height of irresponsibility.

What the conferees denied was much-needed tax relief for our men and women in uniform whose sacrifice and commitment are the foundation upon which the freedom we all enjoy has been built. How they can deny these committed men and women who defend our country simple fairness is beyond understanding.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the January 25 edition of MSNBC Live:

TAMRON HALL (anchor): All right. Let's talk about Mitt Romney, who actually accused McCain of flip-flopping on tax cuts. Obviously, ironic, him accusing him of being in a flip-flop position. How do you assess the remarks made by Mitt Romney?

ADAIR: We gave that one a "true." He's correct that McCain did vote against the Bush tax cuts initially. And McCain's reasoning at the time was we were at war and we could not afford to cut taxes without corresponding cuts in programs and -- but then when the extension of the tax cuts came up for a vote, McCain voted for them. So Romney's correct. Romney is very eager to paint anybody else as a flip-flopper. Romney was right on this one. We gave it a "true."

HALL: All right, thank you, Bill, for your insight. Always great to see who was telling the truth and who may have, you know, embellished the words and numbers a bit. Thank you, Bill.

From PolitiFact.com's "Attack File" fact-check:

McCain switched tax vote

Mitt Romney has repeatedly charged John McCain with flip-flopping on tax cuts. He points out that McCain twice voted against President Bush's tax changes before deciding to support them. He repeated his attack at the Republican debate in Boca Raton [Florida].

Though Romney omits some important details, we again find that he is accurately summarizing McCain's record.

In 2001, McCain voted against a $1.35-trillion tax cut package, arguing that the tax cuts should be balanced by spending cuts. Two years later, McCain again citied spending for opposing $350-billion in additional tax cuts, specifically citing the unknown costs for the war in Iraq.

But in 2006, McCain changed position and voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for five years. He said not to do so would be tantamount to raising taxes at a time when the economy was sputtering.

McCain said he supported the tax-cut extensions, which reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividend income, because "American businesses and investors need a stable and predictable tax policy to continue contributing to the growth of our economy. These considerations lead me to the conclusion that we should not reverse course by letting higher tax rates take effect."

Posted In
Economy, Taxes
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Bill Adair
Show/Publication
Politifact.com
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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