McCain Does Not Understand the Budget

The Up-Until-Recently John McCain took a fairly reasonable line on the federal budget. In 2001, this McCain saw Bush’s tax-cut plan as reckless and irresponsible, and voted accordingly. In 2003, the same McCain went in the same direction.

The New-and-Not-Improved McCain, of course, bears no resemblance to the Up-Until-Recently McCain, and has decided that Bush’s budget policies — you know, the ones that don’t work — are exactly what the nation needs four more years of. The difference, McCain says, is that he will take a firm stand against federal spending, unlike that careless scalawag in the White House now.

Jonathan Chait notes today that McCain is hopelessly confused.

[Y]ou know who else disagrees with George W. Bush on spending? George W. Bush. The president has been lamenting excessive spending for years now. Bush’s line is the same as McCain’s: The tax cuts are swell, but “[t]hat’s just one part of the equation. We’ve got to cut out wasteful spending.”

Actually, McCain is following the pattern of not just Bush but every Republican president since Ronald Reagan. Phase One is to enact tax cuts and promise that they’ll cause revenues to rise, or will cause revenues to fall (leading to spending cuts), or somehow both at once, so, either way, there’s no possibility that it will lead to deficits. Phase Two is deficits. Phase Three is to blame the deficits on big-spending congressional fat cats and to issue increasingly strident threats to cut expenditures, without going so far as to identify actual programs to cut.

Bush thinks the root of the problem is pork-barrel spending. McCain thinks the root of the problem is pork-barrel spending. Bush thinks a line-item veto would solve the trouble. McCain thinks a line-item veto would solve the trouble.

They’re both wrong, for identical reasons.

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