Claiming McCain "is running as the most fiscally conservative" candidate, LA Times cited one bill, which Clinton also opposed

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

A Los Angeles Times article asserted that Sen. John McCain "is running as the most fiscally conservative" presidential candidate, and specifically cited in support only McCain's "critici[sm] [of] the Medicare prescription benefit when it was created in 2003, saying that Congress and President Bush failed to provide for the long-term cost." But Sen. Hillary Clinton also opposed the bill the Times cited, saying the legislation would "start an insurance cost death spiral that will unravel Medicare's financing."

A March 26 Los Angeles Times article about the release of the 2008 report by the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare programs asserted that "[o]f the three [presidential] candidates, [Sen. John] McCain is running as the most fiscally conservative." In support, staff writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar specifically cited only McCain's "critici[sm] [of] the Medicare prescription benefit when it was created in 2003, saying that Congress and President Bush failed to provide for the long-term cost." In fact, Sen. Hillary Clinton also opposed the bill -- the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003 -- asserting in a November 25, 2003, statement on the Senate floor that the bill would "start an insurance cost death spiral that will unravel Medicare's financing." Alonso-Zaldivar also did not note that McCain has proposed numerous tax cuts without delineating specific revenue streams to fund them that, according to analyses by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, would cost trillions of dollars in lost revenues. Nor did Alonso-Zaldivar report that McCain repeatedly voted for, or supported, emergency supplemental spending bills for the Iraq war, which appropriated funds outside of the normal budgeting process and exacerbated the deficit, or that he does not support a timetable to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

During his presidential campaign, McCain has proposed numerous tax cuts, including making permanent the tax cuts President Bush called for in 2001 and 2003, permanently repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), and cutting the corporate tax rate, but he has not identified specific ways of funding them without exacerbating the deficit. As Media Matters for America noted, according to a February 1 analysis by the CBPP, based on Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office estimates, making the Bush tax cuts permanent and repealing the AMT would have a "direct cost" of $3.6 trillion over 10 years and come to an average of $400 billion in annual cost. CBPP also found that "[w]ithout offsets, making the tax cuts permanent would increase the deficit and thereby add to the national debt. The interest payments needed to service this higher level of debt would amount to about $700 billion over the next ten years." McCain also supports cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, and allowing for the first-year "expensing" of "equipment and technology investments." According to a March 2008 analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund based on Congressional Budget Office and Tax Policy Center data, reducing the corporate tax rate would cost $995 billion for 2009-2018, while allowing immediate expensing would cost $745 billion over the same period.

Further, while in 2005 McCain voted for an amendment to express the sense of the Senate that "funds for a fiscal year after fiscal year 2006 for an ongoing military operation overseas, including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, should be included in the annual budget," McCain supported emergency supplemental spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal years 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, and 2003. In its 2006 report, the Iraq Study Group criticized this budget procedure, asserting that it "erodes budget discipline and accountability":

The public interest is not well served by the government's preparation, presentation, and review of the budget for the war in Iraq.

First, most of the costs of the war show up not in the normal budget request but in requests for emergency supplemental appropriations. This means that funding requests are drawn up outside the normal budget process, are not offset by budgetary reductions elsewhere, and move quickly to the White House with minimal scrutiny. Bypassing the normal review erodes budget discipline and accountability.

In addition, in 2003, McCain voted to table, or kill, an amendment that would have provided "funds for the security and stabilization of Iraq by suspending a portion of the reductions in the highest income tax rate for individual taxpayers."

Additionally, unlike Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, McCain does not support a timetable to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Indeed, on his campaign website, McCain states: "Ultimately, Iraq's future lies in the hands of its people, government, and armed forces, and strengthening them is an essential requirement for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. Until Iraqi forces are ready, however, a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would condemn Iraq to civil war and intervention by its neighbors and energize al Qaeda and other jihadists across the globe."

According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis detailed by director Peter Orszag during his October 24, 2007, testimony before the House Committee on the Budget, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is projected at $1.055 trillion for 2008-2017. The projections are based on a scenario in which "the number of personnel deployed to Iraq and other locations associated with the war on terrorism would decline ... from an average of about 200,000 in fiscal year 2008 to 75,000 by the start of fiscal year 2013 and then remain at that level through 2017." Orszag also asserted that the wars would cost $570 billion through 2017 if "the number of personnel deployed on the ground for the war on terrorism would be reduced from an average of about 200,000 in fiscal year 2008 to 30,000 by the beginning of fiscal year 2010 and then remain at that level through 2017." The CBO analysis included the cost of "military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities associated with the war on terrorism, as well as for related costs incurred by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for medical care, disability compensation, and survivors' benefits."

From Alonso-Zaldivar's March 26 Los Angeles Times article:

With the presidential campaign going full tilt, a new government report on a big national problem is usually followed by volleys of rhetoric from the candidates. But on Tuesday, when the annual report on the precarious state of Medicare and Social Security came out, the reaction was not exactly deafening.

The two programs on which millions of elderly Americans depend are apparently just too hot to handle -- especially since any realistic solution is likely to involve a politically unpalatable mix of higher taxes and lower benefits.

As a result, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, had little to say when the latest numbers were released projecting Medicare going into the red by 2019 and Social Security following in 2041. The Democratic contenders, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, also sidestepped the issue.

"Everybody knows that there are a couple of 800-pound gorillas under the rug, but nobody wants to talk about them because that is not the route to the Oval Office," said economist Robert D. Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute public policy center. "The situation is unsustainable in the long run, but the long run is in the future, and our political system operates very much in the present."

Yet baby boomers will start retiring and signing up for Medicare in 2011 -- during the next president's first term. And the program faces double jeopardy from rapidly rising healthcare costs and an aging society. Indeed, the trustees' report released Tuesday showed that Medicare spending will surpass Social Security in 2028, and grow to almost double the cost of the pension program in 2082.

Of the three candidates, McCain is running as the most fiscally conservative. He criticized the Medicare prescription benefit when it was created in 2003, saying that Congress and President Bush failed to provide for the long-term cost.

Candidate McCain has called benefit programs "unsustainable" and promised to work with Democrats to find solutions. But he has not laid out his own ideas in detail. And he certainly has not indicated a willingness to consider tax increases.

But tax increases will likely have to be part of any solution.

A president "can't take anything off the table," said David M. Walker, former head of the congressional Government Accountability Office and a leading advocate of reforming entitlements, as the benefit programs are known.

[...]

Democrats say there is still plenty of time to prevent catastrophic disruptions to either Medicare or Social Security. Even if program trust funds become insolvent, they say, annual payroll tax receipts would still suffice to cover more than three-fourths of the costs of providing benefits.

But just as McCain steers away from the issue of taxes, Clinton and Obama avoid discussing benefit cuts. They also oppose creating private accounts in Social Security, as Bush unsuccessfully tried to do in 2005 -- with McCain's support. Obama says he would be honest with the public about hard choices on Social Security, and Clinton says the retirement program can be strengthened without hurting seniors or the middle class.

Network/Outlet
Los Angeles Times
Person
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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