Bush tries to steal McCain's tax-cut thunder

The Texas governor goes into rapid response mode and quickly attacks his chief rival's new plan.

Published January 11, 2000 7:22PM (EST)

Arizona Sen. John McCain joined the ranks of Republicans touting tax-cut plans Tuesday, making personal Social Security savings accounts a central piece of the plan unveiled in New Hampshire Tuesday afternoon. But faster than you can say "Social Security solvency," lieutenants for George W. Bush were on a media conference call blasting the McCain proposal, and touting the governor's tax-cut plan -- before McCain's camp even had a chance to send out a press release about the senator's plan.

McCain's plan would cut taxes by $240 billion over five years, partly paid for with projected budget surpluses, and partly by $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes and shelters. The McCain plan also sets aside some $700 billion to protect Social Security. The proposal is roughly half the size of Bush's five-year, $483 billion tax-cut plan.

Bush advisor Larry Lindsey ripped the McCain plan using the same critique the Arizona senator has levied against Bush's proposal -- that it only benefits the wealthy. "Sen. McCain basically is providing tax relief only for families who make above $60,000. [A family] needs an income of more than $88,000 to get the full tax cut that Sen. McCain is proposing. The very top 10 percent or so of taxpaying families -- 71 percent of all taxpayers [will not benefit] from the McCain plan," Lindsey said.

The Bush team's shift to rapid response mode underscores two key points: That Bush views McCain as his only real rival, and that he wants to put the dagger in him as early as possible. Last month, Bush threw a similar counter-punch when McCain appeared with Democrat Bill Bradley to tout campaign-finance reform.

Bush has already been successful making tax cuts a central issue of the Republican presidential campaign, switching his focus from education this summer. Perhaps this is the real genius of the Bush campaign. Not only are tax cuts more of a red-meat issue to Republican primary voters, Bush is also tuning the American political ear to tax cuts in hopes of succeeding where Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich have both failed.

"Gov. Bush welcomes a focus on tax cuts and tax issues. He thinks the issue of tax and spend is a centerpiece of this race. More money that is sent to Washington, the more money the government will have to spend. Tax money does not belong to the politicians, it belongs to the people who made it," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher.

Fleisher was armed with a response when asked about the failed Republican proposal last fall, which closely mirrored Bush's current proposal. "That's why we need a Republican president," he said. "The problem with the Republican tax-cutting plan is that the president didn't sign it."

By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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George W. Bush John Mccain R-ariz. Republican Party