Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to promise on Monday that he will balance the federal budget by the end of his first term by curbing wasteful spending and overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security, his advisers told Politico.
The vow to take on Social Security puts McCain in a political danger zone that thwarted President Bush after he named it the top domestic priority of his second term.
McCain is making the pledge at the beginning of a week when both presidential candidates plan to devote their events to the economy, the top issue in poll after poll as voters struggle to keep their jobs and fill their gas tanks.
“In the long-term, the only way to keep the budget balanced is successful reform of the large spending pressures in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” the McCain campaign says in a policy paper to be released Monday.
“The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.”
The pledge is a return to an earlier position he'd later backed away from. On April 15, McCain backed off a February pledge to balance the budget in his first term when asked about it by Michael Cooper of The New York Times, who reported that McCain said “at a news conference … that ‘economic conditions are reversed’ and that he would have a balanced budget within eight years.”
McCain advisers admit that the document is a repackaging of previous policies, without dramatic new initiatives. Some Democratic officials had thought McCain might try to make a splash by proposing a bold middle-class tax cut.
Jason Furman, Obama's economic policy director, called McCain's pledge “preposterous." Furman pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office now estimates a 2013 deficit of $443 billion, assuming the Bush tax cuts are extended. And he estimated that McCain would have to cut discretionary spending—including defense—by roughly one-third to bring the budget into the black by then.
"McCain would have to pay for all of his new tax cuts and other proposals and then, on top of that, cut an additional $443 billion from the budget—which is 81 percent of Medicare spending or 78 percent of all discretionary spending outside of defense," Furman said.
McCain’s tour of swing states is designed to relaunch his candidacy after a high-stakes shakeup last week in his campaign organization, which has been widely criticized as soft and slow compared to the Obama machine.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) also is spending the week emphasizing economic issues, and plans to tout the family-friendly, bottom-up benefits of his proposals.
Obama begins the week in Charlotte, N.C., with what his campaign calls “a discussion on economic security for America’s families.”
The Obama campaign sought to steal McCain’s thunder by holding a conference call Sunday to portray McCain as out of touch and not up to the job on economic matters.
McCain’s emphasis on balancing the budget is likely to excite conservatives, who have remained skeptical of his candidacy, and provoke derision from Democrats, who will argue that it’s a warmed-over version of proposals that President Bush failed to enact.
The budget was in surplus when Bush took office but now is deeply in the red—$410 billion, the White House projects, blaming the demands of war and homeland security.
McCain begins his tour in Colorado, then goes on to Pennsylvania, Ohio Michigan and Wisconsin—five of this year’s 10 most closely contested states.