McCain Vows to Slash Pentagon, Federal Spending

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) pledged Sunday to cut billions of dollars in defense spending, vowing to be special interests' "worst nightmare," and aimed to dismiss suggestions that he has an explosive temper.

McCain said on ABC's "This Week" that he would seek to eliminate the federal budget deficit by cutting spending throughout government. The Pentagon drew special emphasis.

"I am cutting billions and billions out of defense spending which are not earmarks," he said.

The Arizona senator also defended a new Medicare means test he wants, saying that fairness demands that "wealthy people pay for their own prescription drugs."

"Why should we be paying for Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or wealthy Americans who are retired, making $160,000 a couple, not pay for their own prescription drugs? We've got a $1 trillion unfunded liability associated with the Medicare prescription drug bill. One trillion dollars that we're laying on the next generation of Americans. We don't want to do that," McCain said.

McCain brushed off an article in Sunday's Washington Post that cited intemperate episodes in McCain's past and quoted officials in Washington and Arizona as being concerned that such episodes may point to a broader issue.

"The majority of those stories are 15, 20, 25 years ago. The point is that I feel passionately about issues," McCain said, pointing to such recent Washington scandals as Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling and big-ticket congressional earmarks. "[D]o I get angry from time to time, when I'm investigating Mr. Abramoff and find out they ripped off Indian tribes? When I see bridges to nowhere? And you know what, the American people are angry, too. They want change."

McCain criticized a proposal by Sen. Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate, that might raise capital gains taxes, saying that the plan shows Obama "obviously doesn't understand the economy."

"[H]istory shows every time you have cut capital gains taxes, revenues have increased, going back to Jack Kennedy." McCain said. "So, out of touch? Yes, [Democrats] are out of touch when they want to raise taxes at the worst possible time, when we're in a recession."

"We're going to cut taxes. We're going to reduce spending. We're going to put a freeze on discretionary spending," he said.

He also tackled several other topics, including:

• Iran, where he said sanctions can continue to work to pressure the regime. "A league of democracies, countries that have the values and goals, and control so much of the world's economy, I think that we could be very effective. But I also say, at the end of the day, we cannot allow the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, as well," he said.

• His age, 71. Voters "took it into account in the primary. And they saw me out-campaign my opponents and they saw the town hall meetings and they saw the vigor. But also, they want experience and knowledge, which leads to good judgment. And they want action," McCain said. "And they know I can bring about action now and change this government and change the course of history and take care of our nation's security and fix our economy."

Framing the Pennsylvania Primary

Two days ahead of Pennsylvania's primary, top campaign officials for the two remaining Democrats framed the choice between their candidates as solving intractable problems vs. dismantling the way Washington currently operates.

Clinton "is all about solutions," Geoff Garin, top strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We're changing politics from the grass-roots up, and that's how we're going to change Washington," by bypassing special interests, David Axelrod, the top strategist for Obama (Ill.), said on the same show.

Garin said Clinton wants to change both the economy and what's going on in the world. "She's offering positive solutions," he said, adding, "The idea that you have to wait to have special interests go away before we can begin to tackle the economy or before we can begin to fix our standing in the world, it doesn't make sense."

"We've been talking about fixing the broken health-care system for two decades. We've been talking about this energy problem for three decades," Axelrod said. "To say we're going to continue to advance ideas and let them die in the graveyard that Washington has become does not solve anyone's problems."

Asked flatly if Clinton has the wherewithal to change Washington, Axelrod responded that she did not. "She is running as the consummate Washington insider," he said.

"The thing is to stand up special interests when the time comes to do that," Garin said. "That's why Senator Clinton voted against the Bush-Cheney energy bill when Senator Obama voted for it."

Pennsylvania's top Democrats, who differ in who they support, united in trying to play down expectations from Tuesday's vote.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Clinton supporter, said that Obama's heavy spending in the state might, to some extent, overcome his "subpar performance" in last week's debate.

"Democrats across the nation saw her performance ... and were blown away. She showed leadership ability, command of the issues, good solutions," Rendell said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "And those are the things I still think could make this a big victory, but given that spending differential, it's not going to be easy."

Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (Pa.), an Obama supporter, said that his candidate has made "tremendous progress" in Pennsylvania in the past few weeks but perhaps not enough to clinch the primary.

"I don't know if it's enough progress to have a close race or a winning race, but I think it will lay a foundation for the fall," Casey said.

Regardless of Tuesday's result, it is virtually impossible for Clinton to overcome Obama's lead among elected delegates and number of states won, and she is unlikely to win more of the popular vote, either. That prompted questions for Garin about when the New York senator would step aside, but he reaffirmed what Clinton said late last month -- she's staying in the race until August's Democratic national convention.

"Neither candidate is going to have enough pledged delegates to win the nomination" by the end of the primary process in early June, Garin said. "We'll see where we are. ... The party leaders and elected officials will start to exercise their good judgment."

He also resisted the idea that, if party officials known as superdelegates decide the election, it will somehow overturn the will of the voters. "This is not about a backroom deal," he said. "These are people who are elected officials."

Axelrod said he agrees that nobody "should tell Senator Clinton to get out of the race. ...As long as she feels she has a reasonable chance to win the nomination, I understand her continuing in."

But, he added, it would be "damaging" and "bad for our party" if the Clinton campaign, deciding it cannot win more delegates, decides "to apply the kitchen-sink strategy and tear down Senator Obama and see if we can destroy him in order to advance our own candidacy."

Garin complained that the Clinton campaign is forced "to play by two sets of rules" -- accused of running a negative campaign against Obama while his campaign's negative remarks are ignored. For instance, he cited an Obama supporter who said that Clinton as commander-in-chief would not have the right to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier because she exaggerated the dangers she faced when she visited Bosnia as first lady.

Axelrod condemned retired Maj. Gen. Walter Stewart's remarks, made in an Obama campaign conference call with reporters. "That was a terrible thing that the soldier, veteran said on that phone call," Axelrod said. Then he pivoted, adding that Stewart's remark "was reminiscent of the time that someone on a conference call for your campaign compared our health care plan to Nazi Germany." Len Nichols, director of health policy at the New America Foundation, actually said in February that an Obama campaign mailing was "as outrageous as having Nazis march through Skokie, Illinois." A Clinton campaign spokesman disavowed the charge on the same call.

By Post Editor |  April 20, 2008; 2:01 PM ET
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Posted by: votenic | April 23, 2008 1:55 PM

I'm confused... McCain wants to cut DoD spending... while [suggested before elsewhere] increasing our military commitments abroad and possibly engaging even more countries?

This is starting to sound like Hillary's policy of "I'll tell you what you want to hear."

Posted by: wolf | April 25, 2008 12:52 PM

Take this to the bank - - McCain WILL NOT cut DoD and Pentagon budget, no way. And his comment on Obama cutting the capital gains tax is another farce, after all he has gone on record saying that the economy is not his strong suit, so how can he make the accusation that Obama "obviously doesn't understand the economy." I know the Republicans are not excited about this guy, you can see it on their faces. They will just be going through the motions with nomination. I don't care what any of them say, they will not win in November. I cannot wait for this to evolve. It will be crystal clear once November is here.

Posted by: Dee, Washington, DC | April 27, 2008 5:40 PM

Watch for the specifics of the suggested Pentagon cuts. If the cuts are in procurement accounts for unproven but extremely costly aircraft, missile defense systems, and silly ship designs, there is a chance of real success.

If the cuts are in personnel and maintenance accounts, the hollowing of the force will continue to the point of collapse.

Posted by: Rod Adams | May 4, 2008 5:15 AM

John Mc Cain's approach to cut backs on federal spending by the pentagon is an honest and well intended approach to eliminate obsolete programs and their funding regardless which party initiated the program.

Posted by: John's Son | May 8, 2008 2:44 PM

May I make a suggestion: Don't ask John Mc Cain a question if you dont want an honest answer.

Posted by: John's Son | May 8, 2008 3:12 PM

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