John McCain's answer to the nation's economic woes? Tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts.
In a speech on the economy delivered in Pittsburgh Tuesday morning, McCain did his best to express empathy with beleaguered working men and women everywhere. He reiterated many of favorite themes -- free trade good, earmarks bad -- but coverage of the speech will likely focus on his proposal for a summer "gas tax holiday":
I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year. The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up. Over the same period, our government should suspend the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has also contributed to the rising price of oil. This measure, combined with the summer-long "gas-tax holiday," will bring a timely reduction in the price of gasoline. And because the cost of gas affects the price of food, packaging, and just about everything else, these immediate steps will help to spread relief across the American economy.
Get your motors running, America! It's your patriotic duty! As the price of oil broke a new record on Tuesday -- hitting $112 a barrel (remember when breaking $100 was a big deal?) McCain proposed that we consume even more. Forget about bailing out Wall Street -- the time has come to bail out the endangered American gas-guzzler.
McCain also reiterated his determination not to let Bush's tax cuts expire, announced his support for a business income tax cut and a middle-class tax cut and proposed doubling the tax exemption for dependent children. And that's not all:
I will propose and sign into law a reform agenda to permit the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology ... to ban Internet taxes, permanently ... to ban new cell phone taxes ... and to make the tax credit for R&D permanent, so that we never lose our competitive edge.
It can't hurt to attack taxes, of all kinds and every color, on April 15. Presumably enough people are feeling the pain that they will be receptive to McCain's virtuouso display of pandering. But a gas tax holiday and suspending Strategic Petroleum Reserve purchases will do nothing to strengthen the long-term prospects of the American economy in an age of increasing energy constraints. Americans need to be encouraged to consume less gasoline and oil, not more. Government's responsibility is to figure out long-term ways to cushion the impact of higher prices on those least able to afford them, not to artificially keep the party going in the short term. McCain's gas tax holiday just ensures an even bigger hangover, when the party is over.