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Re: The List: McCain’s 10 Worst Ideas
6. Balancing the Budget through Victory in the War on Terror
What he said: “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.” —Jobs for America: The McCain Economic Plan, released July 7, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: The yearly bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is certainly enormous. Yet it still covers less than half of the United States’ projected $490 billion deficit for 2009. Given the massive tax cuts that McCain also supports, it’s unclear how his debt-reduction math adds up. McCain opposes a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, yet he feels confident enough to budget for victory by the end of his first term. Afghanistan is getting worse, not better. And as for “the fight against Islamic extremists,” how does one even define victory? Don’t try asking McCain: He doesn’t have an answer.
7. Making the Bush Tax Cuts Permanent
What he said: “We’ve got to make these tax cuts permanent. We have to, otherwise I think it’ll have a negative impact on our economy.” —NBC’s Meet the Press, Jan. 27, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: You might say McCain was against the $1.35 trillion Bush tax cuts before he was for them. In 2004, he said he opposed them “because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans.” Now, he says he supports them because the economy is weakening. Yet “the tax cuts are more likely to reduce long-term growth than to increase it,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. McCain insists he will restrain spending and eliminate the budget deficit. But McCain’s budget numbers simply don’t add up, and the senator’s constant hammering on congressional earmarks misses the big picture: Defense and entitlement programs are where most of the fat lies, not in relatively small pork projects such as Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”
8. Supporting Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule
What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” —Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007
Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.
9. Calling for 45 Nuclear Power Plants
What he said: “If I am elected president, I will set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America.” —Speech in Springfield, Mo., June 18, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: There are many good reasons to be skeptical of the widespread new enthusiasm for nuclear power, including its high-and-rising costs, but perhaps the best one is that, as experts Charles Ferguson and Sharon Squassoni explained in 2007, “a nuclear renaissance will take too long to have a significant effect” on climate change. Moreover, how do we know that 45 is the right number? A drop in the price of alternative fuels could “make nuclear plants look like white elephants,” the Wall Street Journal noted in May. For someone who likes to extol the virtues of the free market, McCain’s target sure smacks of socialist planning.
10. Backing Cap-and-Trade Without a 100 Percent Auction
What he said: “We will cap emissions according to specific goals, measuring progress by reference to past carbon emissions. … Over time, an increasing fraction of permits for emissions could be supplied by auction, yielding federal revenues that can be put to good use.” —Speech in Portland, Ore., May 12, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: McCain’s gotten credit for supporting a cap-and-trade system, but his specific proposal is pretty weak. Cap-and-trade systems work by putting a ceiling on carbon emissions, and then allocating permits that give companies the right to pollute a given amount. From an environmental standpoint, it doesn’t much matter how you initially distribute the permits, as long as the cap is stringent enough. But most economists think that, unless you first auction these off in a transparent process, you’re basically enabling a massive corporate giveaway, raising the likelihood that well-connected corporations or industries will get sweetheart deals, and failing to capture revenue that can pay for other priorities.