Opponents of Republican John McCain — including Democratic rival Barack Obama — have said a McCain presidency would amount to a third term for President Bush. McCain's Senate record generally shows strong support for the president's agenda — except for big tax cuts, which McCain opposed. As a presidential candidate, though, McCain has gone from breaking ranks with the president on tax cuts, to falling in line.
McCain angered many Republicans by voting against one of the president's signature issues — the big tax cuts of 2001 and '03. Claremont McKenna College congressional expert Jack Pitney expects that McCain would continue to take different stances if he were elected.
"John McCain's position on the environment, for instance, is very different from that of the Bush administration, and one would expect a lot more attention to issues such as global warming," Pitney said. "McCain obviously has been a supporter of campaign finance reform and would continue to do so in the White House."
McCain also backed stem cell funding, which President Bush opposed. When the president supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, McCain voted against it.
But McCain's greatest act of apostasy came during the first year of Bush's presidency, when he was one of two Senate Republicans to vote against the president's $1.3 trillion tax cut package.
Criticizing Bush's Tax Cut
At the time, McCain publicly criticized it as a plan that had not been outlined well. "We are about to enact one of the most massive tax cuts in memory or history, and we do not have any idea how much money is going to be devoted to defense spending and how much is going to be left over for it."
Two years later, on the day before the U.S. invaded Iraq, McCain declared on the Senate floor that he could not vote for a second package of tax cuts worth $350 billion, most of which went to wealthy investors.
"I cannot in good conscience vote in favor of tax cuts irrespective of their size or to which segment of the population they are targeted," he said.
But the tax cuts were hugely popular with President Bush's Republican base, even as budget surpluses collapsed into enormous deficits. As the president prepared for his 2004 re-election bid, he told a crowd that the 10-year tax plans approved by Congress still fell short.
McCain remained the stubborn holdout. That same year, he told NBC's Meet the Press that he voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthiest Americans. "I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit," he said.
New Take on Taxes as a Presidential Hopeful
But once McCain began campaigning to be President Bush's successor, he dramatically changed his stance on those tax cuts, saying he could make them permanent and would reduce taxes on 25 million middle-class families.
Since then, McCain has continued proclaiming his newfound fealty to the Bush tax cuts. Fellow Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who is often mentioned as a possible McCain running mate, applauds the about-face.
"I think he recognizes that to allow these tax cuts to expire would be the equivalent of a tax increase at a time when the economy is really struggling," Thune said. "So, he believes, and I think rightly so, that extending the tax relief is important to the economy expanding and continuing to create jobs."
'Flip-Flop' or 'Evolution'
Pitney says that is evidence of McCain moving in the direction of President Bush.
"McCain's position can either be described as a flip-flop, if you're opposed to him, or as an evolution, if you're a supporter of him," Pitney said.
"If he had remained a strong critic of tax cuts, it's quite possible he wouldn't have won the Republican nomination in the first place," he added. "There are a lot of economic conservatives who regard his earlier position as a deal breaker."
McCain is even proposing new tax cuts, with the biggest benefits going to the top one-tenth of 1 percent of households and little relief for the bottom three-fifths of taxpayers. In a phone call with reporters, Jason Furman, Obama's new top economic adviser, thwacked McCain.
"People sometimes describe John McCain as a third term of George Bush," he said. "I think when it comes to tax policy, that's actually unfair to President Bush. John McCain's tax policies are far more radical."
At the very least, it is a radical departure from the McCain who voted against both Bush tax cuts.