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Straight Talk Derailed: Testy McCain Can’t Identify Earmarks He Would Cut

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"Straight Talk Derailed: Testy McCain Can’t Identify Earmarks He Would Cut"

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Today on ABC’s This Week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once again boasted that he would cut spending in Washington by eliminating $65 billion in earmarks. “There’s billions that can be saved. Americans know that,” said McCain. “I look at $35 billion in the last two years and $65 billion in the years before that.”

But as host George Stephanopoulos noted (and ThinkProgress has reported in the past), that number, according to the Congressional Research Service, includes aid to Israel and funding for military housing.

When pressed on this point, McCain said that he wouldn’t cut aid to Israel. But he continued to struggle when trying to explain exactly how he would therefore cut $65 billion in earmarks, and could not name specific earmarks he would cut:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, sir, let me finish my point. Every other estimate I’ve seen say that the earmarks are $18 billion or $20 billion a year. To get to the $60 billion, that includes earmarks like the aid to Israel, $2 billion a year. $1 billion a year for military housing.You’re not going to cut those.

McCAIN: I’m going to cut at least that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you cutting aid to Israel?

McCAIN: Of course not. I’m not cutting aid to Israel. I’m cutting billions and billions out of defense spending which are not earmarks.

McCain also boasted of his plans to trim $160 billion in discretionary spending. He railed against wasteful defense contracts, but Stephanopoulos pointed out that to get to that number, he would have to cut 30 percent from every single program, including education and veterans benefits. McCain once again avoided answering the question, simply repeating: “I’m talking about changing the way we do business in Washington.”

Watch it:

Interestingly, McCain continues to cite $65 billion in earmarks he would eliminate as president. But his advisers have already started to recognize problems with that figure. Last week, McCain’s top economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that the campaign was changing the definition of earmarks. Under the new calculation, “there are between $16 billion and $18 billion” of earmarks in the current budget. Guess McCain didn’t get the memo.

Despite this muddled interview and lack of specifics on how he plans to cut spending, McCain still claimed that everyone in Washington feared him: “It’s the worst nightmare. I’m their worst nightmare, my friend.”

Transcript:

McCAIN: There’s hundreds of billions that can be saved. Americans know that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s why you’re saying $60 billion from your earmark reforms.

McCAIN: I claim $100 billion when you look at $35 billion in the last two years and $65 billion in the years before that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, sir, let me finish my point. Every other estimate I’ve seen say that the earmarks are $18 billion or $20 billion a year. To get to the $60 billion, that includes earmarks like the aid to Israel, $2 billion a year. $1 billion a year for military housing. You’re not going to cut those.

McCAIN: I’m going to cut at least that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you cutting aid to Israel?

McCAIN: Of course not. I’m not cutting aid to Israel. I’m cutting billions and billions out of defense spending which are not earmarks. The $400 million ship that they had to scrap, it was supposed to cost $140 billion. The $30 billion I believe it is, add-on for a system in the Army that’s gone up $30 billion and we still haven’t got any result from it. The $50 million contract to some buddy of Air Force generals.

I mean, there’s so many billions out there just in defense —

STEPHANOPOULOS: To hit your number, you say $160 billion in discretionary spending. The entire non-defense discretionary budget is $500 billion a year. That means you’re talking about a 30 percent cut in every program. Education. Veterans benefits.

McCAIN: I’m talking about looking at every institution of government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re prepared to cut 30 percent?

McCAIN: I’m talking about changing wait we do business in Washington.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you prepared to cut 30 percent?

McCAIN: I’m prepared to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of wasteful and unnecessary spending in America. Whether it be ethanol subsidies, sugar price supports, whether they be payments to the wealthiest farmers. Whether they be the loopholes that are out there worth I don’t know how many billions and billions of dollars. I guess my critics, and frankly from the tenor of your questions, think we’re going to do business as usual in Washington. We’re not.

It’s the worst nightmare. I’m their worst nightmare, my friend.

Update

The New York Times writes in an editorial today: “We do not doubt that Mr. McCain would try harder than Mr. Bush to cut spending. But his claim that he would offset hundreds of billions of dollars in new tax cuts by closing loopholes and cutting pork is just not credible.”

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