Blitzer failed to challenge Graham on McCain's economic plan, rationale for opposing Bush tax cuts

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

CNN's Wolf Blitzer did not challenge Sen. Lindsey Graham's claim that Sen. John McCain opposed President Bush's 2001 tax cuts because he "wanted a tax cut, a very healthy tax cut, but he wanted spending limitations." In fact, when he voted against the cuts in 2001, contrary to what he now says on the campaign trail, McCain made no mention of deficit concerns or of the absence of offsetting spending cuts.

On the May 4 edition of CNN's Late Edition, host Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) assertion that Sen. John McCain opposed President Bush's 2001 tax cuts because he "wanted a tax cut, a very healthy tax cut, but he wanted spending limitations." In fact, while McCain now says he voted against the Bush tax cuts because they were not paired with spending cuts -- which many in the media, including CNN, have uncritically repeated -- it was not the reason he gave in 2001 on the floor of the Senate. In a May 26, 2001, floor statement, McCain said, "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief." Further, Graham stated, "[B]ut now is the time to limit spending, something Republicans have done a very poor job of. And I think that will be a major effort of a McCain administration to control spending on his watch." However, Blitzer did not note that several media reports on McCain's economic plan have indicated that he has not stated specifically what cuts in spending he would make, and cited, in the words of Bloomberg News, "economists and nonpartisan analysts" who say that much larger spending cuts than McCain has outlined would be necessary to balance the budget. Nor did Blitzer note that McCain has altered the timeline under which he has pledged to balance the budget; after asserting in February that he would do so in four years, he said in April that he would within eight years, claiming that "economic conditions are reversed."

In his May 2001 statement explaining his opposition to the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) conference committee report -- the final version of Bush's initial tax-cut package, which became law -- McCain said that while he supported an earlier version of the bill "that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans," he could not "in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief." He made no mention of deficit concerns or of the absence of offsetting spending cuts.

While Blitzer allowed Graham to assert unchallenged that "now is the time to limit spending" and that doing so "will be a major effort of a McCain administration," media analyses of McCain's economic plan have also noted that he has not been specific in indicating what cuts in spending he would make and reported that much larger spending cuts than McCain has proposed would be necessary to balance the budget in eight years, as McCain now proposes. An April 18 Bloomberg News article reported that McCain's "plan to cut taxes and balance the budget wins praise from fellow Republicans," but that "[e]conomists and nonpartisan analysts say his numbers don't add up." Bloomberg further reported that "McCain's spending cuts, combined with increased revenue from economic growth, total $1.5 trillion over eight years, leaving a $1.8 trillion net increase to the national debt." Bloomberg also quoted Concord Coalition executive director Robert Bigby's assertion that "the huge imbalance" in McCain's plan "is that the tax cuts are specific and large and the spending cuts are small and vague."

Similarly, in an April 22 article, headlined "McCain Tax Cuts Would Bloat Deficit or Take Huge Spending Curbs," The Wall Street Journal reported (accessed from the Factiva database):

Once thought of as a deficit hawk, the near-certain Republican presidential nominee is now putting more stress on the traditional Republican orthodoxy of tax cuts. Altogether, he proposes more than $650 billion in tax cuts a year, much of it benefiting corporations and upper-income families. That includes the cost of extending tax cuts implemented under President Bush that he voted against twice.

To help pay for it all, the Arizona senator says he would cut $160 billion a year from a federal discretionary budget that totals a little more than $1 trillion. He hasn't specified where the cuts would come from.

With military spending -- about half the total -- likely to rise or perhaps stay even, most if not all of the cuts would have to come from domestic programs. The discretionary budget, which excludes entitlements such as Medicare or Social Security, covers areas such as medical research, federal prisons, border security, student loans, food inspections and much else.

The $160 billion figure is equal to the total budget in 2007 for the departments of Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice and State.

And in his April 23 column, New York Times economics and business columnist David Leonhardt reported that the McCain campaign "has been far, far more detailed about its tax cuts, which would worsen the deficit, than its spending cuts, which would reduce it." Leonhardt also reported that he "spoke over the past week with several other economists who admire Mr. McCain and have advised him over the years. None would defend his current fiscal package (or be quoted)." He concluded of McCain: "[W]hen you add up the numbers that have been released so far, you're left wondering if he is the least fiscally conservative candidate still in the race."

From the May 4 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: On tax policy, originally McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts back in 2001, 2003; now he says they should be made permanent. Do you see any differences between where he stands on tax policy as opposed to the Bush administration?

GRAHAM: The difference in 2001 is that John wanted a tax cut, a very healthy tax cut, but he wanted spending limitations. I think Republicans paid a heavy price, Bush -- excuse me -- Wolf, over the last several years by spending too much. So, he would like to make the tax cuts permanent. Now is not the time to raise taxes, but now is the time to limit spending, something Republicans have done a very poor job of. And I think that will be a major effort of a McCain administration to control spending on his watch.

BLITZER: In our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that came out this week -- right track, wrong track, President Bush's job approval numbers. As far as his disapproval numbers, it was a record 71 percent of the American public. Democrats, Republicans, independents say they disapprove of President Bush's job performance. That's even a higher number than Richard Nixon had at the height of Watergate when he was on the verge of being impeached. Are you surprised that so many Americans disapprove of President Bush's record over these past eight years?

Posted In
Economy, Taxes
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
Late Edition
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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