McCain Outlines Plans for Ailing Economy

John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, laid out his economic strategy Tuesday at an address in Pittsburgh. McCain was trying to convince voters that he could bring economic change while separating himself from the Bush administration.

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John McCain keeps his focus on the economy today as he campaigns in Wisconsin. The Republican presidential hopeful is trying to reassure voters that he understands their financial concerns. Yesterday in Pittsburgh McCain offered a variety of economic proposals, including temporary and permanent tax cuts.

Democrats have criticized McCain, saying he was offering warmed-over scraps from the Bush administration. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY: With gas prices rising, job numbers falling and hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk of losing their homes, John McCain says the government has a responsibility to act. One of the actions he proposed yesterday was a temporary lifting of the gasoline tax, saving drivers up to 18 cents a gallon during the busy summer driving season.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presumed Presidential Nominee): The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus, taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up.

HORSLEY: The plan would cost the government about $10 billion in revenue that ordinarily goes for highway projects. McCain advisers say he would shift money from other areas so road work doesn't suffer.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment on McCain's proposal. For his part, McCain was trying to distinguish his platform from President Bush's.

Sen. MCCAIN: We need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties. For Republicans, it starts with reclaiming our good name as the party of spending restraint.

HORSLEY: McCain says he would be more aggressive than President Bush in using his power to veto spending. With the president's approval rating falling to just 28 percent in a recent Gallup poll, Doug Burns of the Alleghany County Republican Committee says it makes sense for McCain to put some distance between them.

Mr. DOUG BURNS (Alleghany County Republican Committee): He was critical of his potential opponents but he was also critical of some of the things that have been done here in the last eight years. This is not going to be a continuation of the existing situation if he's elected.

HORSLEY: The challenge for McCain is trying not to sound too much like President Bush while still supporting tax cuts, a staple of Republican policy. He called for a doubling of the tax break for dependent children yesterday, the elimination of the alternative minimum tax and a cut in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

Earlier in the decade McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts because he said they were weighted too heavily towards the rich. Now, on the campaign trail he wants to make those cuts permanent.

Hillary Clinton's campaign calls McCain's new economic strategy a George Bush redux of corporate windfalls and tax cuts for the wealthy. Pittsburgh school custodian Terry Bisbee(ph) agrees with Clinton, saying it sounds like more of the same.

Mr. TERRY BISBEE (School Custodian, Pittsburgh): Eight years of the Republicans is enough of me. I don't need any more of that.

HORSLEY: Bisbee and his wife were part of a largely Democratic crowd who turned out earlier this week in Pittsburgh for a forum on protecting manufacturing jobs. Both Clinton and Barack Obama spoke at the forum in support of tougher trade policies. That message was welcomed by workers like Glen Dunaway, a member of the United Steel Workers.

Mr. GLEN DUNAWAY (Member, United Steel Workers): I make 55-gallon containers, brand new drums. We're constantly competing with people from Canada. You've got a lot of other little countries trying to move into the business. It affects all of us. We've had a few layoffs, business gets slow. We have our good days and we have our bad days.

HORSLEY: Even among Republicans, a growing majority - almost six in ten -believe unfettered trade has led to more bad days for the U.S. McCain is sticking with his free trade position, but he acknowledged yesterday trade doesn't automatically help everyone.

Sen. MCCAIN: Change is hard. While most of us gain, some industries, companies and workers are left to struggle with very, very difficult choices and government should help workers. They should help workers get the education and training they need.

HORSLEY: McCain promised to offer more detailed policies for healthcare, energy and education in the months to come. That means more chances for the candidate to either chart his own course or follow the path set by his GOP predecessor.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Pittsburgh.

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