March 3, 2008

LIKE BUSH WITHOUT A BRAIN:

McCain's Economy Platform: Big Tax Cuts, With Caveats (BOB DAVIS, March 3, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

A centerpiece of a McCain presidential bid in 2000 was a plan to divert a portion of Social Security payroll taxes to fund private accounts, much as President Bush proposed unsuccessfully. Under the plan, workers could manage the money in stocks and bonds themselves to build a nest egg and, at retirement, also receive reduced Social Security payments from the government. Proponents say the combination of the nest egg and government payouts could give a retiree more than the current system, but opponents say the change would undermine the Social Security system.

Sen. McCain's 2008 presidential campaign Web site takes a different view, proposing "supplementing" the existing full Social Security system with personally managed accounts. Such accounts wouldn't substitute for guaranteed payments, and they wouldn't be financed by diverting a portion of Social Security payroll taxes.

Mr. McCain's chief economic aide, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office, says economic circumstances forced changes concerning Social Security policy. Vast budget surpluses projected in 2000 evaporated with a recession, the Bush tax cuts and the cost of responding to Sept. 11.

As a result, the McCain campaign says the candidate intends to keep Social Security solvent by reducing the growth in benefits over the coming decades to match projected growth in payroll tax revenues. Among the options are extending the retirement age to 68 and reducing cost-of-living adjustments, but the campaign hasn't made any final decisions.

"You can't keep promises made to retirees," says Mr. Holtz-Eakin, referring to the level of benefits the government is supposed to pay future retirees. "But you can pay future retirees more than current retirees."

Asked about the apparent change in position in the interview, Sen. McCain said he hadn't made one. "I'm totally in favor of personal savings accounts," he says. When reminded that his Web site says something different, he says he will change the Web site. (As of Sunday night, he hadn't.) "As part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it -- along the lines that President Bush proposed." [...]

On taxes, Sen. McCain is walking a fine line between courting keep-taxes-low Republicans while insisting he is the candidate of fiscal discipline. Two weeks ago, ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked him on "This Week" if he were a "'read my lips' candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?" referring to a pledge made by President George H.W. Bush, which he later broke. "No new taxes," Sen. McCain responded. "But under circumstances would you increase taxes?" Mr. Stephanopoulos continued. "No," Sen. McCain answered.

Asked in The Wall Street Journal interview to clarify, Sen. McCain softened that stance. "I'm not making a 'read my lips' statement, in that I will not raise taxes," he says. "But I'm not saying I can envision a scenario where I would, OK?"

Behind the scenes, his campaign is searching for ways to pay for Sen. McCain's tax proposals. In addition to extending the Bush tax cuts, the 71-year-old candidate would slash the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 25% at a cost to the Treasury of $100 billion a year, estimates Mr. Holtz-Eakin.

In all, his tax-cutting proposals could cost about $400 billion a year, according to estimates of the impact of different tax cuts by CBO and the McCain campaign. The cost will make it difficult for him to achieve his goal of balancing the budget by the end of his first term.


He's an heir to Reagan and W, so the balanced budget promise oughtn't be taken seriously. And it doesn't matter what form federally mandated private counts take as long as you means-test SS at the end.

MORE:
McCain's econ brain: Economic conservatives take heart: Phil Gramm is influencing the candidate's platform (Shawn Tully, 2/18/08, Fortune)

[E]conomic conservatives should take heart. McCain's chief economic adviser - and perhaps his closest political friend - is the ultimate pure play in free market faith, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm. If McCain follows Gramm's counsel, and most of his current positions are vintage Gramm indeed, his policies as president would represent not just a sharp departure from the Bush years, but an assault on government growth that Republicans have boasted about, but failed to achieve, for decades. [...]

On the economy, McCain's most daring manifesto is his healthcare plan. Not surprisingly, it bears the Gramm imprint. In fact, McCain has been heeding Gramm's "power-to-the-consumer" approach for more than a decade. The two senators bonded when they linked arms to fight Hillary Clinton's ill-fated healthcare program in 1993. "We couldn't get any press coverage in Washington, DC, so we traveled all over the country, to the regional media markets," says Gramm. In 150 meetings at hospitals and clinics, McCain and Gramm relentlessly pounded the Clinton plan, helping fire the voter outrage that killed the plan in 1994.

Today, McCain is advocating a plan that's radically different from those of Clinton and Barack Obama, and - if he goes all the way by following Gramm - could revolutionize America's healthcare system. For McCain and Gramm, the problem with our healthcare system - and the reason why over 47 million Americans are uninsured - is that it's excessively, scandalously expensive. The solution, they say, is to let Americans shop for healthcare with their own money. McCain advocates giving tax rebates of $2500 per individual or $5000 per family. With that money, families could purchase policies on their own. What's truly radical about the plan is that it eliminates the tax exclusion for healthcare benefits offered by companies to their employees, and replaces it with the $2500 to $5000 rebates.

Consumers could then use that cash to buy their own insurance in what Gramm foresees as a vibrant, consumer-driven marketplace for healthcare packages.

By contrast, Clinton and Obama want to leave the employer-based system in place; Clinton would make big companies either fund gold-plated packages for workers, or pay a stiff tax to support a new Medicare-like system. The Democrats wouldn't allow insurers to charge lower rates for young workers who cost far less than older Americans. McCain favors allowing insurers to charge rates based on actual cost. Gramm adamantly supports that policy allowing insurers to tailor their premiums, and their packages, to their customers. Says Gramm: "Most people without coverage are young and healthy. We shouldn't penalize them by forcing them to pay for someone else's coverage."

What about taxes? McCain now advocates extending the Bush tax cuts that he twice voted against. For Gramm, McCain's strength is that, unlike Bush, he will be a relentless hawk on spending. "McCain's main objection when Congress passed the tax cuts was that we didn't have spending controls," says Gramm. "If we'd had them, we could cut taxes again and not make do with some temporary stimulus."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2008 6:15 PM
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