This column was written by Deroy Murdock.
While Americans focus on the interminable Clinton-Obama celebrity death match, Senator John McCain is using clear-headed, compellingly crafted speeches to propose surprisingly bold free-market ideas. With one huge exception, the Arizona Republican advocates more limited, open government as his Democratic rivals promise tax hikes and an even busier state. Voters should welcome this stark contrast.
On spending, McCain would rule with a tight fist.
"In my administration, there will be no more subsidies for special pleaders - no more corporate welfare - no more throwing around billions of dollars of the people's money on pet projects, while the people themselves are struggling to afford their homes, groceries, and gas," McCain said April 15 in Pittsburgh. "I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks," McCain continued. "I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice once and for all." More impressively, McCain said, "We will institute a one-year pause in discretionary spending increases with the necessary exemption of military spending and veterans' benefits."
Such prudence would be a welcome relief from the Bush/GOP Congress years that did for fiscal responsibility what the Playboy Mansion has done for sexual restraint.
John McCain displayed far more courage than the average GOP presidential contender when he flew to Iowa to tell its farmers what they can do with their ears of corn.
"I have to give you a little straight talk about the farm bill that is wending its way through Congress," McCain declared in Des Moines on May 1, before lawmakers approved a $307 billion agricultural bailout bill. "I do not support it. I would veto it." He added: "I would do that because I believe that the subsidies are unnecessary."
As he told the National Restaurant Association in Chicago on May 19, "If I am elected president, I will seek an end to all agricultural tariffs, and to all farm subsidies that are not based on clear need. I will veto any bill containing special-interest favors and corporate welfare in any form," He explained: "The original idea was to provide a buffer to small farmers in tough times and to assure a stable supply of food for our country. But nowadays, the small farmers have been forgotten, and instead the Congress sends a steady supply of subsidies to agribusiness."
The GOP desperately needs a leader who can stand up to America's rural welfare queens. If he can "just say no" to them, perhaps other privilege-seekers will notice and draw their snouts from the public trough. Had President Bush not given away money as if it grew like grain, it might have been easier to kill or at least lasso this year's farm fiasco. Instead, with a few brave exceptions, Republicans gleefully lined up to help Democrats fatten farmers, as if they were hogs bound for the abattoir.
McCain's fiscal discipline would make it easier to reduce taxes. He wants to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent. He would slice corporate taxes from 35 to 25 percent. "We have the second-highest tax on business in the industrialized world," McCain said. "High tax rates are driving many businesses and jobs overseas - and, of course, our foreign competitors wouldn't mind if we kept it that way."
McCain also would scrap the Alternative Minimum Tax, double the dependents' exemption from $3,500 to $7,000, "and sign into law a reform agenda to permit the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology . . . to ban Internet taxes, permanently . . . to ban new cell phone taxes... and to make the tax credit for R&D permanent, so that we never lose our competitive edge."
Most significantly, McCain would let Americans choose to file taxes under today's rules or volunteer for a simpler, flatter rate of perhaps 25 or 15 percent.
Rather than yesterday's unemployment-insurance system, McCain explained in Pittsburgh that he favors "using the unemployment-insurance taxes to build for each worker a buffer account against a sudden loss of income - so that in times of need they're not just told to fill out forms and take a number." He would let community colleges tap into existing federal training programs to help displaced workers develop new skills.
Regarding healthcare, McCain warned in Tampa on April 29 that his opponents "urge universal coverage, with all the tax increases, new mandates, and government regulation that come along with that idea. But in the end, this will accomplish one thing only. We will replace the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly."
Instead, McCain believes "the key to real reform is to restore control over our health-care system to the patients themselves." He would expand Health Savings Accounts, and more dramatically, offer a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to help Americans purchase their own coverage, even across state lines. Freeing Americans to buy health policies outside their own states will create a national market for individual insurance and allow consumers to select coverage as simple or as comprehensive as their preferences and budgets permit.
"The health plan you chose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you," McCain said. "It would be yours and your family's health-care plan, and yours to keep."
McCain also calls for reining in the misguided, multi-trillion-dollar Medicare drug plan. "People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet don't need their prescriptions underwritten by taxpayers," McCain observed. "Those who can afford to buy their own prescription drugs should be expected to do so. This reform alone will save billions of dollars that could be returned to taxpayers or put to better use."
McCain previewed how he would lead. Beyond weekly press conferences, McCain told Ohio voters May 15, "I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons." This excellent idea would strengthen transparency and accountability. Legislators could grill McCain on his performance, while McCain could straight-talk senators and representatives - right to their faces. If this reform became a standard practice, the only candidates who would run for president would be those who grasp the priorities and details of governance and could communicate them clearly while under withering rhetorical fire. How refreshing.
There is a cautionary note among these encouraging signs: John McCain has beer-bonged the Kool-Aid on global warming.
"We need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters, and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring," McCain said May 12 at a Portland, Oregon wind-power research facility.
He desires "a cap-and-trade system to change the dynamic of our energy economy." His specific goal is to reduce CO2 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Former Virginia state climatologist Patrick Michaels estimated in the May 16 Washington Times that this would lower per-capita emissions "to 19th-century levels."
Before relegating America's mid-21st-century economy to the norms of the Grover Cleveland era, McCain should heed the expanding caucus of experts who believe so-called "global warming" is exaggerated, if it even exists.
On May 19, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine released a petition signed by 31,072 Americans scientists, including 9,021 Ph.D.s. They reject the idea that CO2 is boiling the Earth. So much for climate science being "settled."
One hopes McCain will listen on this issue. Just as he recently has warmed to tax cuts, perhaps he will cool on "global warming."
Nonetheless, McCain will remain a mixed bag. Sometimes he will annoy the Right. Other times, he boldly will go where no GOP standard bearer has gone since Ronald Reagan. As a wise man said, "John McCain is not perfect. Just perfect enough."
NRO contributing editor Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.
By Deroy Murdock
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online