Gannett News Service ignored McCain's shifting explanations on why he voted against tax cuts

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

A Gannett News Service "analysis" by Chuck Raasch asserted that Sen. John McCain "is vulnerable to the flip-flopper label" on taxes "because he voted against [President] Bush's tax cuts, calling them irresponsible without an accompanying resolve to cut government spending." But, while McCain makes that claim now -- that he voted against the tax cuts because of lack of offsetting spending cuts -- he gave a different reason on the Senate floor in 2001 to explain his opposition to the tax cut bill, which Raasch does not mention.

In a May 30 Gannett News Service "analysis" of the "McCain-Obama match-up," political reporter Chuck Raasch noted that Sen. John McCain originally voted against President Bush's tax cuts, but Raasch asserted as McCain's reason for his opposition a different argument than the one McCain made on the Senate floor at the time of the vote. Indeed, contrary to Raasch's assertion that McCain voted against the tax cuts because they lacked "an accompanying resolve to cut government spending," McCain at the time explained his "no" vote with the very argument that Raasch noted Sen. Barack Obama makes against extending the tax cuts now: that they disproportionately benefit the wealthy. While Raasch wrote that "McCain is vulnerable to the flip-flopper label" because of his support for extending the tax cuts that he originally voted against, Raasch did not note that McCain now provides a very different explanation for his original vote against the tax cuts -- an explanation that New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller characterized as "more palatable to the right" -- than he gave on the Senate floor at the time of the original vote.

In his May 26, 2001, floor statement during the Senate debate on the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 conference committee report, McCain said that he opposed the bill providing the tax cuts because "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief." McCain also voted against legislation in 2003 to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut dividends and capital gains taxes. On the April 11, 2004, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain said, "I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthy Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit. But the middle-income tax credits, the families, the child tax credits, the marriage tax credits, all of those I would keep." Thus, the reason McCain gave in opposing the tax cuts in 2001 and 2004 is the very same reason that Obama cites today for opposing making them permanent. Indeed, Raasch draws on that fact to mark the distinction between the candidates' positions on taxes:

Many [of the Bush tax cuts] are set to expire in coming years, which Republicans -- including recent convert McCain -- say is a tax hike. Obama says many of the cuts favor the wealthy or big business, and he'd target any future cuts to lower- and middle-income taxpayers.

In a March 3 New York Times article, Bumiller noted the discrepancy between McCain's 2001 statement on the Senate floor and what he claims now as the reason he voted against the tax cuts. Bumiller wrote that McCain's assertion then that the tax cuts disproportionately benefited the rich is "an objection that conservatives consider heresy," and "[w]hen pressed, Mr. McCain now says he voted against the tax cuts because they were not accompanied by sufficient spending cuts, an explanation somewhat more palatable to the right."

Raasch also asserted: "Obama's federal legislative record is too sparse for a long-term ideological stamp although the National Journal labeled him the Senate's most liberal member." Raasch did not note however that, in contrast with a study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis that considered all Senate votes, National Journal uses a more subjective methodology, basing its ranking on "99 key Senate votes, selected by NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a liberal-to-conservative scale." In contrast with the National Journal results for 2007, Poole and Lewis' study placed Obama in a tie for 10th most liberal senator in 2007.

As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented (here, here, here, here, here, and here), among the votes Obama cast that contributed to National Journal's "most liberal senator" label were those to implement the 9-11 Commission's homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage. Obama himself, when asked by Politico editor-in-chief John F. Harris about the National Journal's 2007 vote ratings during a February 11 Politico/WJLA-TV interview, criticized the National Journal's methodology by noting that it considered "liberal" his vote for "an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you've got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress."

Media Matters has also noted that the National Journal admitted to having used flawed methodology in the publication's previous rating of then-Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) as the "most liberal senator" in 2003.

From Raasch's May 30 Gannett News Service article:

Obama's federal legislative record is too sparse for a long-term ideological stamp although the National Journal labeled him the Senate's most liberal member. Republicans are likely to remind voters of that distinction often over the next six months -- and the fact that five years ago, Obama was a member of the Illinois Legislature.

[...]

They're on opposite sides of whether to make many of the tax cuts passed earlier in the Bush administration permanent.

Many are set to expire in coming years, which Republicans -- including recent convert McCain -- say is a tax hike. Obama says many of the cuts favor the wealthy or big business, and he'd target any future cuts to lower- and middle-income taxpayers.

McCain is vulnerable to the flip-flopper label on this issue because he voted against Bush's tax cuts, calling them irresponsible without an accompanying resolve to cut government spending.

In his defense, McCain can argue that a down economy is the worst time to raise taxes. And he has been one of the biggest spending-cut hawks in Congress throughout his legislative career.

Person
Chuck Raasch
Show/Publication
Gannett News Service
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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