By DAVE HELLING and SCOTT CANON, The Kansas City Star
Sen. John McCain on Thursday renewed his call for a “brief” gas tax holiday — and quickly ran into a political fender-bender with his new Missouri campaign chairman, Sen. Kit Bond.
The Republican told an estimated 1,200 people at Union Station that suspending the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel would help put millions of dollars into the hands of businesses and lower-income Americans.
Such a holiday, he later told The Kansas City Star, could be justified by cutting wasteful spending: “The most pork barrel-laden aspect of everything we do are the highway bills.”
One of the most vocal supporters of past highway bills? Bond, appointed this week as McCain’s state chairman.
“Sen. Bond and I have strong disagreement — have strong disagreement on pork barrel spending,” McCain said. “We have fought on the floor of the Senate, and I think the American people are fed up with earmark, pork barrel spending which has caused corruption.”
Bond — who opposes a gas tax holiday — deftly deferred.
“Senator McCain and I agree that wasteful spending should not be tolerated, but what the American people are really fed up with is $4 gas,” he said in a statement.
McCain’s renewed call for suspending the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax came during a wide-ranging, one-hour town hall meeting at Kansas City’s historic train depot.
The capacity crowd strained at times to hear McCain through the booming echo of the station’s north waiting room. But audience members applauded warmly and repeatedly as McCain riffed on a variety of topics — abortion, immigration reform, education and health care.
He criticized opponent Sen. Barack Obama for his opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq, offshore drilling and expansion of nuclear power.
“I think we should change (Obama’s slogan) to ‘no, we can’t,’ ” McCain told the crowd.
He also said Obama had the “most extreme” record in the Senate.
Asked later if he thought Obama was an extremist, McCain said: “His voting record … is more to the left than the announced socialist in the United States Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.”
Does McCain think Obama is a socialist? “I don’t know. All I know is his voting record, and that’s what people usually judge their elected representatives by.”
Obama’s campaign, in a statement: “John McCain squandered an opportunity to talk with Missourians about solutions to our economic problems and chose instead to launch the same old tired political attacks that the American people are sick of.”
Before the town hall meeting, McCain met with reporters on his bus — the Straight Talk Express — and said he was skeptical about Obama’s upcoming trip to the Middle East.
“I hope he learns he was wrong when he said that the surge would not work in Iraq … when he set out a timetable (for withdrawal) … and when he said the war was lost.”
He also criticized Obama for not consulting active-duty military leaders more vigorously.
“Failure in Iraq would have had catastrophic consequences in Afghanistan. … He doesn’t understand warfare.”
McCain’s visit here came less than three weeks after Obama delivered a speech on patriotism in Independence, and just two days after a McCain campaign stop in St. Louis.
Both candidates say they plan major efforts in the state. On Thursday, the Obama campaign said it raised $52 million in June, outpacing McCain’s $22 million.