McCain Adviser: Priority Is Getting Economy Growing

John McCain's economic adviser Carly Fiorina is campaigning with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and is one of many names that has been mentioned as a possible McCain running mate. Renee Montagne talks with Fiorina, the former president and CEO of Hewlett Packard.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

All this week, Barack Obama and John McCain have spent time on the campaign trail talking up their economic plans to voters. For his part, John McCain is emphasizing cutting taxes, and that includes making permanent President Bush's big tax cuts. John McCain had opposed those tax cuts, arguing they tilted too much to the rich and would add to the deficit. Now, he supports them.

Former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, is advising John McCain on the economy. We reached her yesterday in Michigan, as they headed out for a town hall meeting.

Cutting taxes, the argument is, is that it's good for the economy. But taxes have been cut over this last seven years and the economy is not in great shape, especially for the average American. Why would it be different in a McCain administration?

MONTAGNE: Well, I think it very much depends. There have been periods where tax cuts have absolutely helped grow the economy. But, of course, it depends upon where and how you cut taxes. They have to be targeted on specific things.

MONTAGNE: But if John McCain believes in targeted tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts that he now supports were not targeted; they were across the board.

MONTAGNE: And it is one of the reasons why John McCain believes that in a poor economy you cannot simply repeal those tax cuts. Because - I agree with you - they were across the board. They were not particularly targeted. But today the reality is 23 million small businesses have benefited from those tax cuts, and if you repeal them, 23 million small businesses will see their taxes go up.

MONTAGNE: Earlier this week you were describing to a group of reporters the choices that women have to make with their health insurance. This was a discussion to some degree about the economy and about the pocketbook. But you went on to say that there are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth control medication. Those women would like a choice, and you repeated: those women would like a choice.

Is there something more there in what you were saying? I mean, for instance, where do you stand on the issue of abortion?

MONTAGNE: Well, I personally happen to be pro-life. John McCain has a very long pro-life record and he won't walk away from that record. I also know there are many, many women who disagree with me on that. And I respect that. For those women who are a single issue voter on the subject of abortion, John McCain won't get their vote. And I accept that. But the particular question that you're referring to, the reporter basically said people don't want a choice in their health insurance. They just want to be told what their health insurance plan is. And I just reject that. I wasn't trying to make a veiled reference to the issue of pro-life or pro-choice.

MONTAGNE: Your memoir is titled "Tough Choices." What is the single toughest choice that you would advise Senator McCain that he would have to make in terms of his economic program?

MONTAGNE: I think the most important thing is to get this economy growing again. And getting the economy growing means that we have to be creating more jobs. Our economy today, it's not simply that people are losing their jobs. It's also, as some economists have noted, it's as though employers are on a hiring strike.

MONTAGNE: Although I would call that a tough challenge for any candidate in this economic environment. But what about a tough choice? That is...

MONTAGNE: Well, poor...

MONTAGNE: ...something that would be hard for him to do politically but may have to be done and you know that as a business person.

MONTAGNE: I think he's done many things that are hard to do politically for the sake of this. John McCain is being accused by the Democratic Party every day of flip-flopping on the subject Bush tax cuts. In essence, John McCain made a choice. He could maintain his consistent position on the Bush tax cuts or he could deal with reality. And the reality is that those Bush tax cuts impact far more than the wealthiest Americans.

They impact the job creation engine of this economy - small business, 23 million of them. And in a bad economic time, it is bad economic policy to raise taxes on 23 million small businesses, the only sector of the economy growing jobs.

MONTAGNE: You are repeatedly mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain. If Senator McCain asks you to be vice president, would you accept?

MONTAGNE: You know, I don't deal in hypotheticals. I have been working with him because I think he is the right next president of the United States. I think this election matters. Anyone, I think, would be honored to serve John McCain. I am honored to serve him now; I would be honored to serve him later. Beyond that I'm just trying to help make a difference every day.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

MONTAGNE: Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Former CEO Carly Fiorina is a senior adviser to John McCain. She may or may not be on his short list of possible running mates.

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