Now that John McCain has joined George W. Bush in presenting a major tax-cut plan, the two GOP candidates are engaged in a debate that is, by conservative standards, unusual: Whose proposal does the most for taxpayers in the middle and lower portions of the income scale? Each candidate claims that the other's plan does little or nothing for these taxpayers. In this case, actually, both candidates are right.
Bush targets only 11 percent of his tax cuts to the three-fifths of all taxpayers from the bottom to the mid-dle of the income scale; McCain offers these 76 million taxpayers a mere 5.5 percent of his tax reductions.
As it turns out, both Bush and McCain give almost three-quarters of their tax cuts to the best-off fifth of the population. But within that fifth, there is a major distinction. Bush compassionately targets 37 percent of his total tax cuts to the top 1 percent, those making more than $319,000 a year. The hard-hearted McCain gives only 2 percent of his tax cuts to this elite group.
So Republican primary voters have a tough decision to make: Do they want (a) a tax-cut plan that mainly favors the better off or (b) one that tilts toward the very best off? Decisions, decisions.
Does Size Matter?
Actually, the biggest difference between the Bush and McCain tax-cut plans is size. Bush's plan entails a staggering $1.7 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years, with a total cost of $2.1 trillion including interest. That's more than the latest official projections of the entire 10-year non-Social Security surplus. In contrast, McCain offers $500 billion in tax cuts over 10 years, at a cost of $580 billion including interest. That's still a hefty sum, but it pales in comparison to Bush's program.
McCain says that Bush's tax plan is "fiscally irresponsible" because it would bring back big budget deficits and leave no money to help preserve Social Security and Medicare. Bush counters that McCain's is the reckless approach because--well, apparently, calling the other guy "reckless" resonates with the voters.
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