Fox News and The Wall Street Journal uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's claim that he originally voted against the Bush tax cuts because they were not paired with spending cuts. And in its endorsement of McCain, The Arizona Republic wrote that McCain "opposed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 because they arrived with no commensurate spending cuts." But in a floor statement during the Senate debate on the 2001 tax cut bill, 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."
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In recent days, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) claim that he originally voted against the Bush tax cuts because they were not paired with spending cuts. Additionally, The Arizona Republic editorial board asserted in its January 27 endorsement of McCain that he "opposed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 because they arrived with no commensurate spending cuts." But, as The Arizona Republic itself reported in March 2007, 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."
In that same 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 2006, he switched positions and voted for the bill extending the 2003 tax cuts. 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 a January 27 editorial naming McCain as "the best Republican choice for president in 2008," The Arizona Republic wrote that McCain "opposed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 because they arrived with no commensurate spending cuts." But the Republic wrote in a March 1, 2007, article that in 2001, McCain "cast one of only two Republican votes against Bush's $1.35 trillion tax-relief package, saying the cuts benefited the wealthy at the expense of middle-class Americans." The article did not note any statements from McCain during the tax-cut debate regarding the absence of commensurate spending cuts.
Additionally, on the January 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a McCain supporter, "defend[ed] [McCain's] vote against tax cuts, saying McCain wanted spending cuts to go with them." Angle also aired a clip of Coburn saying of McCain: "Was his position right? Had we paid for all these tax cuts, we would have a tremendous surplus right now, plus being able to pay for the war." Similarly, in a January 25 article (subscription required) about the January 24 Republican presidential debate, The Wall Street Journal reported that McCain "explained why he voted against the Bush tax cuts -- that spending was out of control -- and said he supported making them permanent." Neither report noted that he made no mention of the spending issue in his floor statement opposing the 2001 tax-cut package.
By contrast, The New York Times noted in a January 25 article on the debate that in 2001, when McCain "took to the Senate floor to declare his opposition, he said the bill unduly benefited the wealthy." From the January 25 article:
"Senator McCain voted against them [the Bush tax cuts] originally," [former Gov. Mitt] Romney [R-MA] said. "He now believes they should be made permanent. I'm glad he agrees they should be made permanent. I think he should have voted for them the first time around."
Mr. McCain responded that he had opposed a big tax cut because it was not accompanied by corresponding spending cuts.
"We let it get out of control," he said. "And the fact is that if we had had the spending restraints that I proposed, we would be talking about more tax cuts today. We would be talking about more tax cuts."
Mr. McCain was one of only two Republican senators to vote against Mr. Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut measure in 2001. When he took to the Senate floor to declare his opposition, he said the bill unduly benefited the wealthy.
From the January 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: As we told you earlier, Republican Senator John McCain is doing well and polling well among Florida Republicans, but his popularity among GOP colleagues in Washington may leave something to be desired. And while he does certainly have his supporters, many conservatives are not among them. Chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reports.
[begin video clip]
ANGLE: Now that Senator John McCain sits atop many national polls in the Republican race, those conservatives who don't like him are getting plenty riled up.
FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DeLAY (R): I'm going to support those that will help us drive a conservative agenda, and if John McCain is the nominee, that won't be the case.
ANGLE: So what is it that some conservatives object to? Tom DeLay says just about everything.
DeLAY: He's bad on guns. He's bad on taxes. He's not a supply-sider. He's bad on affirmative action, and he's certainly bad on immigration.
ANGLE: And conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, a voter in the upcoming Florida primary, has a long list of complaints as well.
LIMBAUGH: The campaign finance reform; voting against two major tax cuts -- both tax cuts would help millions of businesses and employees spur economic growth.
ANGLE: But then there's Senator Tom Coburn, who is as conservative as they come. He endorses McCain and defends his vote against tax cuts, saying McCain wanted spending cuts to go with them.
COBURN: Was his position right? Had we paid for all these tax cuts, we would have a tremendous surplus right now, plus being able to pay for the war.
ANGLE: And he argues McCain's courage and character outweigh everything else.
COBURN: What our country is facing both in terms of fiscal issues and world terrorism needs somebody who is principled, needs somebody who doesn't do this, and checks which way the wind is blowing.
ANGLE: He notes McCain has a lifetime conservative rating in the mid 80s, which is why another conservative talk show host also supports McCain.
MICHAEL MEDVED (conservative radio host): John McCain has a solid conservative record. He is pro-Second Amendment rights. He is pro-life. He is emphatically pro-national security.
ANGLE: Senator Coburn, a leader of pro-life forces, says McCain always voted with him, but others argue McCain had never been active in the anti-abortion movement. And critics complained that McCain was often at odds with the Republican leadership.
DeLAY: John McCain has done more to undermine the Republican leadership in Congress and the Republican Party than anybody I know, starting with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform, which almost neutered the Republican National Party.
ANGLE: That bill restricted money and politics. Some say it didn't work at all; some say it worked too well. But Senator Coburn, who did not support it, defends McCain.
COBURN: You got to give him credit for trying to address the problem where we have an unethical behavior, and he's trying to fix it.
ANGLE: McCain knows his strong showing in New Hampshire and South Carolina in part to independent voters who could vote in either primary, but in many of the big contests from here on, only Republicans can vote in their own primary, so McCain has to win them over. But a McCain ad highlights his ability to draw support from more than just Republicans.
MEDVED: And all of the polls show that every Republican loses to Obama and Clinton except John McCain.
McCAIN: I'm confident that I can appeal to all parts of the party, including conservatives, particularly on the basis of national security.
[end video clip]
ANGLE: But McCain will have to broaden his appeal beyond national security, and he'll have to convince conservatives in the big states in particular, that he is one of them if he hopes to be the nominee -- Brit.
From the January 25 Wall Street Journal article:
Uncertainty about the economy dominated the first third of the 90-minute debate, a boon for Mitt Romney, a millionaire investor formerly of Bain Capital. Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, praised the stimulus plan agreed to yesterday by Congress and the White House but urged the administration to take it further.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who won the primaries of New Hampshire and South Carolina and is in a statistical dead heat with Mr. Romney in the Florida polls, defended his economic credentials. He explained why he voted against the Bush tax cuts -- that spending was out of control -- and said he supported making them permanent.
Messrs. McCain and Romney were joined on stage by Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul for the last standoff before Florida's primary Tuesday. Mr. Huckabee presented his populist message by talking about the "bottom of the economy" and the "people who are handling the bags, the people who are serving the food." Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who has bet his campaign on a win in Florida, turned his remarks to 9/11. Dr. Paul, a congressman from Texas, railed on overspending. "Everyone wants to solve the problem by printing more money," he said.
From the January 27 Arizona Republic editorial:
Anyone surprised to learn that The Arizona Republic judges U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona the best Republican choice for president in 2008 simply hasn't been paying attention.
In recent months we have extolled McCain's virtues and defended him against his many critics. In our judgment, McCain is the class of the GOP contenders, and we are proud to encourage his pursuit of the nation's highest office.
Contrary to the impressions left by his critics, McCain has never voted to raise taxes. He opposed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 because they arrived with no commensurate spending cuts. And, for the record, he now supports making those cuts permanent. McCain is a career-long defender of lower taxes and less federal spending.