McCain's misguided role model on deficit reduction

Asked about balancing the budget, McCain cites Reagan's example, despite Reagan's deficits.

Published April 10, 2008 5:55PM (EDT)

Just a couple of months ago, John McCain acknowledged, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." For some reason, he has been trying to prove this point ever since.

Wednesday, for example, McCain made a campaign stop in Westport, Conn., where a voter, asking for some "straight talk," inquired as to how McCain plans to balance the federal budget. (McCain has vowed, repeatedly, to eliminate the deficit by the end of his first term in office.)

"I don't believe in a static economy," Mr. McCain said. "I believe that when there's stimulus for growth, when there's opportunity, when people keep more of their money -- and the government is the least efficient way to spend your money -- that economies improve."

"When Ronald Reagan came to office," he said, noting that few in the audience were old enough to remember, "we had 10 percent unemployment, 20 percent interest rates, and 10 percent inflation, if I've got those numbers right. That was when Ronald Reagan came to office in 1980. And so what did we do? We didn't raise taxes, and we didn't cut entitlements. What we did was we cut taxes and we put in governmental reductions in regulations, stimulus to the economy."

There's so much wrong with this, it's hard to know where to start. First, citing Reagan as a model for deficit reduction is foolish. The deficit tripled under Reagan.

Second, McCain hails Reagan's example for not raising taxes, but this overlooks a key detail -- Reagan did raise taxes, several times, to prevent his budget deficits from spiraling out of control.

And third, McCain concluded, "I believe we can grow this economy, and reduce this deficit." This is so utterly foolish, it's hard to believe a serious presidential candidate would be willing to say it out loud.

In just the past couple of months, McCain has been confused about the relationship between taxes and revenues, confused about whether he thinks our current economy is strong or not, confused about why interest rates even exist, confused about his own no-new-taxes pledge, confused about his own Social Security policy, and confused about how he'd pay for yet another round of reckless tax cuts.

After a quarter-century in Congress, when it comes to the economy, the poor guy sounds like he has no idea what he's talking about.

Maybe the senator could take a few weeks off, read a book or two, and get back to us?

By Steve Benen

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