One day after proclaiming on Meet the Press that he and George W. Bush share a common philosophy, John McCain took to a stage in Cleveland Monday to attack the President's economic policies. As it turns out, of course, when it comes to ideology and policy on the economy, John McCain and George W. Bush are virtually indistinguishable.
The feebleness of McCain's effort to distance himself from Bush was revealed in its brevity. Despite the AP's headline that "McCain says Bush policy on economy is wrong," McCain's critique was limited to a single sentence. And in those nine words and the attack on Barack Obama that followed, John McCain wasn't telling the truth:
"This is the fundamental difference between Senator Obama and me. We both disagree with President Bush on economic policy. The difference is that he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high."
Leaving aside for the moment his dissembling on the Obama tax plan (which the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded would offer larger tax cuts to Americans at every income level below $112,000), McCain simply lied about parting company with George W. Bush.
A quick glance at their shared approach to tax cuts, the deficit and health care confirms that George W. Bush and John McCain are joined at the hip.
The Bush Tax Cuts. After having once criticized President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, John McCain reversed course for his presidential run and now supports making them permanent. As the Center for American Progress concluded, "McCain's tax plan will increase after-tax income of the richest 3.4 percent by more than twice the average for all households -- and offer no benefit to the poorest taxpayers and minimal savings for the middle class." By "doubling down" on the Bush program, John McCain is offering an even more regressive policy than his predecessor:
"The McCain plan would predominantly benefit the most fortunate taxpayers, offering two new massive tax cuts for corporations and delivering 58 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. The Bush tax cuts provide 31 percent of their benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers."
The Bush Budget Deficit. In March, McCain's top economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin acknowledged the campaign's proposals "will make deficits expand up front." But despite his promises of spending restraint, a war on earmarks and a rapidly thawing budget freeze, John McCain has been silent on how he'll stem the unending flow of red ink his tax cuts will produce. In March, ThinkProgress estimated these "costing more than $2 trillion over the next decade and essentially doubling the Bush tax cuts." By extending the Bush tax cuts, the Tax Policy Center concluded in September, by 2018 John McCain "would add $5 trillion to the debt." It's no wonder the McCain campaign keeps vacillating on its comical first-term balanced budget pledge.
A Taxing Health Care Plan. On health care, too, John McCain and George W. Bush are essentially interchangeable. In June, McCain unveiled what is in essence a warmed over version of the Bush health care plan, one which was dead on arrival in Congress. As the Miami Herald noted, both put health insurance tax credits at the center, "Bush proposed tax credits of up to $3,000, but they were never enacted. McCain has upped the ante to $5,000." Like Bush, McCain would end the employer health care deduction and, for the first time, tax Americans' health care benefits. And like President Bush, John McCain would leave most of America's 47 million uninsured without coverage and those with pre-existing conditions in jeopardy. It's no wonder McCain's prescription got a chilly reception from the New England Journal of Medicine and reliably Republican business groups alike.
Opposing SCHIP Expansion. Like President Bush, John McCain strongly opposed the expansion of the very successful - and wildly popular - State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). When Bush vetoed the extending the program to 3.3 million more uninsured children last year, John McCain stood by his side. Denying coverage to more kids, McCain insisted last fall, was a "right call by the President."
With his chances of filling George W. Bush's seat rapidly diminishing, John McCain has been frantically trying to distance himself from the man he would replace. Last week, a frustrated McCain used a Washington Times interview to vent against the Bush record with which he is inextricably linked. As McCain's water carrier Lindsey Graham put it in May, "Good luck making him George Bush."
That's hardly a challenge; John McCain has already made himself George W. Bush' natural heir.