Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) rhetoric on the budget has become increasingly muddled in recent months. McCain has gone from pushing a balanced budget by 2012, to a balanced budget by 2017, to a “who cares” approach. A brief timeline:
– “McCain pledges to balance the budget by 2012, not by increasing taxes, but by vetoing all pork barrel spending, and curbing outlays for Social Security and Medicare.” [Fortune, 2/19/08]
– “McCain’s overall goal is to balance the budget by the end of his second term, says [economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin]. That would be 2017.” [Robert Samuelson, 2/19/08]
– Holtz-Eakin “said that if the war and the personal and corporate tax cuts that Mr. McCain advocated added to the federal deficit and debt, so be it. ‘I would like the next president not to talk about deficit reduction,’ he said.” [NY Times, 4/14/08]
But yesterday, in an interview with Bloomberg, the McCain campaign flip-flopped yet again, claiming that McCain would put in place a balanced budget “by the end of his first term”:
Holtz-Eakin…defended McCain’s tax plans, which include extending Bush’s tax cuts, reducing the corporate tax rate and repealing the alternative-minimum tax. McCain would offset those cuts by reexamining the entire federal budget and vetoing earmarks to reduce spending. “That plan, when appropriately phased in, as it has always been intended to be, will bring the budget to balance by the end of his first term,” he said.
In reality, as the Wonk Room noted, McCain’s tax plan — which doubles the size of the Bush tax cuts, costing more than $2 trillion in their first decade — would create the largest deficit in 25 years. Even with the most generous savings McCain has offered, yearly deficits would increase to $1.2 trillion by FY2017, beginning with $505 billion in FY2009.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos confronted McCain with the numbers in April, McCain shied away from his first term balanced budget pledge. “But we’re not going to have a balanced budget before you leave office in your first term?” Stephanopoulos asked. “Well, that still should be a goal, but the goal — the goal right now is to get the economy going again,” McCain responded.
So which budget plan is it? 2012? 2017? Or none at all? As Holtz-Eakin said in May, “You have to pay for that somehow or you are George Bush III.”
James Kvaal and Robert Gordon note that, in the same interview, Holtz-Eakin ludicrously claims that Obama — not McCain — would be a third Bush term.