- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Just when it seemed Republican presidential aspirant John McCain the GOP's so-called "maverick" or "outsider" candidate could not possibly get any closer to the Democratic Party's long-held positions on taxes and spending, the Arizona senator demonstrated that he could probably teach the likes of Al Gore and Dick Gephardt a thing or two about how to use the tax issue to conduct class warfare against the Republican Party. Indeed, Mr. McCain has distinguished himself as such an "outsider" under the GOP's Big Tent that his rhetoric on taxes now places him squarely within the Democratic tradition.

Having spent the better part of his political career supporting cuts in marginal income tax rates and opposing increases, Mr. McCain has suddenly evolved into a redistributionist determined to preserve the status quo of high, confiscatory tax rates. He now embraces President Clinton's top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, for which not a single Republican congressman, including Mr. McCain, voted in 1993. Amazingly, Mr. McCain's embrace is tighter than that of Mr. Clinton, who once candidly admitted to a group of Texans that he had raised their taxes too much that year.

Mr. McCain now thinks that the 39.6 rate is right under virtually all circumstances. In the face of a 10-year, trillion-dollar non-Social Security surplus projected last year by the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. McCain could find no room for reducing the 39.6 percent rate in the meager tax-cut proposal he unveiled last week. Well, what if the non-Social Security surpluses approached $2 trillion over the next decade, as congressional budget analysts are expected to project later this month? Even under those circumstances, which were put to Mr. McCain by columnist Robert Novak after Saturday's GOP debate in Iowa, Mr. McCain could find no room to reduce the high marginal tax rates in his minuscule tax-cut plan. Moreover, he offers nothing but disdain for Texas Gov. George W. Bush's proposal to reduce the top rate to 33 percent, which happens to be 5 percentage points above the top rate established by Ronald Reagan's 1986 tax reform, which Mr. McCain supported.

Mr. McCain's rhetoric also now matches his inclinations. Consider his take on the "defining difference" between Mr. Bush and himself: "what you do with the surplus whether you spend it all on tax cuts or whether you invest it" in an array of domestic spending programs. Note Mr. McCain's intentional, inexcusable suggestion a suggestion he repeatedly makes in all types of forums that Mr. Bush plans to allocate "all" the surplus to tax cuts. In fact, Mr. Bush will use the $2 trillion, 10-year surplus attributable to Social Security to retire the federal debt held by the public, thereby ensuring it will not be used to finance spending. Only the non-Social Security portion of the surplus will be used by Mr. Bush for tax relief, though one would never draw such an inference from Mr. McCain's comments. It is also clear from this "defining difference" that Mr. McCain has now adopted the convoluted Democratic logic that considers tax reduction to be a spending program, accusing Mr. Bush of intending to "spend it all on tax cuts." On the other hand, Mr. McCain considers the actual spending of the hundreds of billions of dollars on Democratic-preferred domestic programs to be tantamount to "invest[ing] it," a truly Clintonesque proposition. In other comments that could have come straight out of the Democratic playbook, Mr. McCain over the weekend wailed about the "growing gap between rich and poor in America" and between "the haves and the have-nots in America."

Mr. McCain also revealed over the weekend his misbegotten notion that the dramatic rate cuts President Reagan achieved in 1986 were undertaken because "we were in bad economic times." In fact, the economy had just entered its fifth year of rapid economic growth. Ronald Reagan fought to reduce high marginal tax rates, which were reduced in 1986 from 50 percent to 28 percent, because he believed the rates were too high a belief Mr. McCain once shared, but clearly does not now.

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