Sen. John McCain today called for a summer-long "gas tax holiday" to reduce the cost of gasoline, an increase in prescription drug premiums for wealthy retirees to save money and added that, as president, he would immediately call for a one-year moratorium on discretionary federal spending.
In his first official appearance in Pittsburgh as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, the Arizona senator delivered a 33-minute speech outlining his plans for reviving the struggling economy -- which he all but described as being in a recession -- while criticizing Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for advocating the expiration of President George Bush's tax cuts.
"For their part, Senators Obama and Clinton have championed a long list of pork-barrel projects for their states," he said. With his voice subtly tinged with sarcasm, he added, "like that all-important Woodstock museum that Senator Clinton expected Americans to pay for at the cost of a million dollars. That kind of careless spending of tax dollars is not change, my friends: it's business as usual in Washington."
Mr. McCain, who was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd, proposed shaving the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax off gas prices between Memorial Day and Labor Day. "The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars of the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or a trucker stops to fill up," he said.
Mr. McCain also called on the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that college students will continue to obtain financial aid amidst a tight credit market. The department should "work with the governors to make sure each state's guarantee agency has the means and manpower to meet its obligation as a lender-of-last-resort for student loans," he said.
Mr. McCain complained that too many people are included in the new prescription drug benefit program "who are more than capable of purchasing their own medicine without assistance from taxpayers who struggle to purchase their own. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett don't need their prescriptions underwritten by taxpayers." Under a proposal outlined last night by his campaign advisers, couples in the Medicare Part B program who make more than $160,000 a year would be required to pay higher premiums.
In a clear nod to Carnegie-Mellon's reputation as a technology leader, Mr. McCain also said he'd sign a law permitting the first-year expensing of new equipment and techolonogy, a permanent ban on Internet taxes and a ban on new cell phone taxes, "which should be of interest to people here," he said, as the audience -- heavily packed with students -- applauded politely.
The senator, who a few weeks ago had appeared cool to a governmental solution to the subprime mortgage crisis, reversed course recently and said he'd support a bailout for qualifying homeowners, and in his speech today Mr. McCain repeatedly sought to counter claims by his Democratic opponents that he was out of touch with working and unemployed Americans, citing encounters with average citizens struggling to make ends meet.
"I leave it for others to speculate on the technical definition of a recession," he said. "It's all a little beside the point if it's your plant that's closing and your job that's gone."
He said he would propose a middle-class tax cut that would expand the personal exemption from $3,500 annually to $7,000.
And, in an allusion to his own reputation as a crusader against special interests and pork-barrel spending, he said, "In many ways, the workers and entrepreneurs of America are taken for granted by their government, while the lobbyists and special pleaders are seldom turned away," noting that he would provide "direct and immediate help that can make all the difference: If you can't make your payments, and you're in danger of foreclosure, you will be able to go to any Post Office and pick up a form for a new home loan. In place of your flawed mortgage loan, you'll be eligible for a new, 30-year fixed rate backed by the United States government. Citizens will keep their homes, lenders will keep their losses, and everyone will move on -- following the sounder practices that should have been observed in the first place." The remark was also an echo of controversial remarks by Mr. Obama about small-town Pennsylvanians disillusioned with their government.
Sen. Hillary Clinton was quick to respond to Mr. McCain's speech, zeroing in on the Arizona senator's plan to cut corporate taxes as "the last thing hardworking families need."
In a statement issued by her campaign, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. McCain's economic prescrptions "a George Bush-redux of corporate windfalls and tax cuts for the wealthy that will bankrupt our government and leave working families with the bill." Mr. McCain's plan, she claimed, would allow new corporate tax shelters that would let many of the most profitable companies avoid paying taxes altogether, whereas her economic plan would provide more than $100 million in tax cuts for middle class families. She also denied that her plan would raise taxes for anyone making less than $250,000 per year.
Mr. McCain now heads to Villanova University in Philadelphia to appear on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" college tour, which will be broadcast on MSNBC, and will fly to Milwaukee tomorrow to host an economic summit there.