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Doug Krizner: We go from Super Bowl to Super Tuesday. Tomorrow, nearly half the states hold presidential primaries and caucuses. For the GOP, John McCain has become frontrunner after victories in South Carolina and Florida. His message is as much about the economy as it is national security. Jeremy Hobson looks at the inspiration behind McCain’s economic proposals.
Jeremy Hobson: When you think of John McCain, the economy is not the first thing that comes to mind. He’s even said as much on NBC’s Meet the Press.
John McCain: Of course, I know more about national security than any other issue. That’s been my entire life. Am I, am I smart on economics? Yes. I was chairman of the Commerce Committee . . .
Indeed he was, as recently as 2005. But McCain’s economic plans have more to do with his start in politics, as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. He doesn’t want limits on free trade. He doesn’t want universal health care. He wants government programs deemed ineffective cut from the budget. And there’s a whole lot of talk about tax cuts.
McCain: I’ll make the Bush tax cuts permanent, where we not only cut taxes . . . I’m proud of my record of tax-cutting. We’ve got to make these tax cuts permanent . . . I’ve said 500 times that I want the tax cuts to be made permanent . . . And if we’d have done what I wanted to do, we’d be talking about more tax cuts today.
McCain’s opponents point out that he voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.
He said he did that because they rewarded the rich. Now, he wants them made permanent.
So the question is: Can a Reagan-inspired tax-cutting policy be the cornerstone of an economic message in 2008?
McCain’s senior policy advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, says yes:
Douglas Holtz-Eakin: You have to make sure the economy’s growing rapidly. The recipe for that has always been the same. Small government, reliance on competitive markets and aggressive ability to sell around the world. That’s a recipe that’s always helped the middle class, it’s one they’ve always supported and it’s one they’ll support again.
Not necessarily, some top Republicans say. Among them Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign.
Matthew Dowd: Reagan was successful on tax cuts because people’s tax rates were astronomically high, and people felt like they wanted more control over their own income. And I think that continued on for a while and the politics of that continued on for a while. But it’s been exhausted.
Dowd says McCain’s message may win him primaries, but would be a tough sell with middle-class voters in the general election.
In Washington, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.
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