60 Minutes called Obama's -- but not McCain's -- economic agenda "expensive," even though McCain's is reportedly more so

››› ››› LILY YAN

During interviews with Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft characterized Obama's economic agenda as "ambitious and expensive," citing the costs of Obama's infrastructure, alternative energy, and health care plans, but there was no similar characterization of McCain's tax agenda by correspondent Scott Pelley, who interviewed McCain, even though, according to the Tax Policy Center, McCain's tax plan would likely add $1.5 trillion more to the federal deficit over 10 years than Obama's tax plan.

During the September 21 CBS 60 Minutes broadcast, which consisted of interviews with Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, correspondent Steve Kroft characterized Obama's economic agenda as "ambitious and expensive." However, there was no similar characterization of McCain's tax agenda by correspondent Scott Pelley, who interviewed McCain, even though, according to the Tax Policy Center, McCain's tax plan would likely add more to the federal deficit than Obama's tax plan. The Tax Policy Center's latest report stated that "Senator Obama's plan as described by his economic advisers would increase the ten-year cumulative deficit by about $3.6 trillion to $5.9 trillion; Senator McCain's plan would boost it by $5.1 trillion to nearly $7.4 trillion."

During the Obama interview, Kroft said that Obama has an "ambitious and expensive economic agenda -- $60 billion to create jobs improving the infrastructure, $150 billion to develop alternative energy sources, and a similar amount for health care," and said to Obama, "The McCain campaign, right now, is characterizing you as just another big-spending liberal and that, as a result of this, he [Obama] wants to raise taxes." Obama replied in part, "I would say if you are making $150,000 a year or less, you are definitely getting a tax cut under my plan. Between 150 and 250,000, you're probably gonna stay roughly the same. It is true, if you make more than $250,000 a year, you'll probably pay a slightly higher rate, but you'll probably still pay lower taxes than you did back in the '90s, and you definitely will be paying lower taxes than you did under Ronald Reagan." Kroft followed up by asking: "Is it a good idea to be raising taxes at a time when the country seems to be broke?"

After reporting that "[t]he most expensive part of the Obama program is the health insurance plan, which would make coverage for children mandatory and promises affordable, government-subsidized insurance to all Americans, with premiums based on a percentage of their income," Kroft asked Obama how much his health care plan would cost, adding, "A hundred and fifty billion dollars it's gonna cost, right?"

By contrast, during the interview with McCain, Pelley did not characterize McCain's tax agenda as "expensive" and did not bring up the specific costs of his tax cuts.

Of the federal deficit, Kroft asked Obama, "Right now, it's -- what? Four hundred billion? ... Is it gonna go up under an Obama administration?" Pelley did not note that the deficit under McCain's economic agenda would likely be greater.

From the Tax Policy Center's September 2008 report, titled, "An Updated Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates' Tax Plans":

Both campaigns have complained that our analysis is incomplete because we fail to consider the effects of their spending cuts on the budget. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the federal budget will run a cumulative deficit of $2.3 trillion over the 2009-2018 period under current law (see Summary Table 1).3 If federal spending evolves as CBO predicts, the proposed tax cuts would add to those deficits and substantially increase the national debt. Senator Obama's plan as described by his economic advisers would increase the ten-year cumulative deficit by about $3.6 trillion to $5.9 trillion; Senator McCain's plan would boost it by $5.1 trillion to nearly $7.4 trillion. Adding to their plans proposals made in stump speeches but not confirmed by campaign advisors would lower the cumulative deficit over the decade slightly to $5.4 trillion for Obama and raise it to almost $11 trillion for McCain. Beyond this, the health proposals and campaign promises not in the official descriptions could increase the costs still further.

Both candidates claim, however, that they will reduce spending below CBO's baseline, which would shrink the deficits. Indeed, Senator McCain recently promised to balance the budget by 2013 through sharp cuts in discretionary spending (including defense) and entitlements, although that was before the new, bleaker, CBO projections. Both candidates promise to eliminate earmarks and make the government more efficient and both expect to save billions by making the health care market work more effectively. Each candidate claims that he will rein in spending more than his opponent. Senator McCain points to the proposals made by Senator Obama for expansions in health care, education, and infrastructure. Senator Obama says that he will cut military spending by extricating us from Iraq sooner than Senator McCain would. Bringing the federal budget into balance would, however, require unprecedented spending cuts under either candidate's tax plan. For example, given the tax cuts described in his stump speeches, Senator McCain would have to cut federal spending in 2013 by more than 25 percent to balance the budget.

Finally, Senator McCain's advisors have pointed out that the budget situation could improve if his proposals lead to more economic growth. However, if the tax cuts substantially raise the national debt, the increase in borrowing by the federal government could crowd out private investment and consumers' purchases of homes and durable goods, which could slow the economy.

From the September 21 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes:

PELLEY: What are the differences between you and Senator Obama on taxes? In your plan, who gets a tax cut?

McCAIN: Well, in my plan, everybody does.

PELLEY: Senator Obama's plan would cut taxes more than McCain for the middle class, but Obama would raise taxes for those making more than $250,000 a year. And last week, McCain turned up the temperature on the rhetoric.

McCAIN [video clip]: His tax increase, along with the enormous new federal programs he proposes, are the surest way to turn a recession into a depression.

PELLEY: You and Senator Obama propose cutting taxes in different ways, but in the last few days, the federal deficit broke all records.

McCAIN: Yes.

PELLEY: It's now $400 billion that the federal government is in the red. Is it smart to cut taxes for anyone in this economic emergency with that kind of a deficit?

McCAIN: Well, number one, Scott, the worst thing you could do is raise taxes on anybody, and I don't know which iteration we are talking about of Senator Obama's. He's had four or five different positions on which taxes he would increase, which ones he wouldn't. I think the major point here is that spending got out of control. How many Americans know that the size of government increased by 40 percent in the last seven years? We, Republicans, for six of the eight years, presided over the greatest increase in government since the Great Society. Republicans came to power to change Washington, and Washington changed us.

PELLEY: But how do you cut the budget --

McCAIN: Oh, easy. Look --

PELLEY: -- that much?

McCAIN: Look, if you were able to increase the budget and the size of government by 40 percent, don't you think you could cut some of it?

PELLEY: What are you going to cut?

McCAIN: I think we'll -- frankly, you can eliminate so many agencies of government that are outmoded. Obviously, I would scrub defense spending. Obviously, we would look at every institution of government. I would stop these protectionist tariffs. I would stop subsidizing sugar.

PELLEY: Did I just hear you say you're gonna cut the defense budget?

McCAIN: I think there's areas in defense where we can save a lot of money in cost overruns.

[...]

KROFT: Friday, in Coral Gables, Obama was surrounded by a financial brain trust that includes three former treasury secretaries and a former Federal Reserve chairman who are advising him on the Wall Street crisis and on his ambitious and expensive economic agenda -- $60 billion to create jobs improving the infrastructure, $150 billion to develop alternative energy sources, and a similar amount for health care.

The McCain campaign, right now, is characterizing you as just another big-spending liberal --

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: -- and that, as a result of this, he wants to raise taxes.

OBAMA: Right. They're wrong. And I think they're being deliberately misleading. Under my tax plan, 95 percent of American workers would get a tax cut -- 95 percent. If you are making less than $250,000, you would not see a single dime of tax increase -- not on anything. And --

KROFT: And at what level would the tax break start to kick in?

OBAMA: Well --

KROFT: Salary-wise?

OBAMA: I would say if you are making $150,000 a year or less, you are definitely getting a tax cut under my plan. Between 150 and 250,000, you're probably gonna stay roughly the same. It is true, if you make more than $250,000 a year, you'll probably pay a slightly higher rate, but you'll probably still pay lower taxes than you did back in the '90s, and you definitely will be paying lower taxes than you did under Ronald Reagan.

KROFT: Is it a good idea to be raising taxes at a time when the country seems to be broke?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, that we are cutting taxes for 95 percent of the people who are more likely to spend the money to go and put that money to work in a small business, who are more likely to give a boost to the economy -- a stimulus to the economy -- at a time when it's needed.

KROFT: The most expensive part of the Obama program is the health insurance plan, which would make coverage for children mandatory and promises affordable, government-subsidized insurance to all Americans, with premiums based on a percentage of their income.

How much is it gonna cost? A hundred and fifty billion dollars it's gonna cost, right? It is?

OBAMA: It is. It is, but we pay for every dime that we propose to spend. I believe in "pay as you go." That if you want to propose a new program, you better cut some old ones. If you want to expand a program, then you better figure out where the money's coming from.

KROFT: So, this is paid for with the increased taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year.

OBAMA: It's rolling back the Bush tax cuts. It's closing corporate tax loopholes. But, look, I don't make a claim that we are going to be able to eliminate our deficit within my first term as president.

KROFT: Right now, it's -- what? Four hundred --

OBAMA: It's a lot.

KROFT: -- billion? Right.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: Is it gonna go up under an Obama administration?

OBAMA: No, it's gonna go down, but it's not gonna go away, because we've dug ourselves a deep hole.

Posted In
Economy
Network/Outlet
CBS
Person
Scott Pelley, Steve Kroft
Show/Publication
60 Minutes
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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