Anybody who was watching the July Senate floor vote on the Republicans' bill to repeal and replace Obamacare will remember the audible gasps that John McCain elicited when he surprised his own party by voting against the plan. And now just four months later, he's gearing up to do it again.
According to the New York Times, McCain may once again decide the fate of one of the Trump administration's top legislative priorities.
The senator from Arizona has been tight-lipped about whether he will vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on the bill, which was voted out of the Senate Banking Committee yesterday with the support of Bob Corker and Ron Johnson, who have both expressed reservations about the plan – Johnson had even said he wouldn’t vote for it.
As the NYT points out, McCain has staked his career on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and has bucked his party by voting against tax cuts in the past.
McCain’s skepticism of tax cuts stretches at least as far back as 1994. At that time, he was fretting about being fiscally responsible now that Republicans had seized control of Congress. “I think we would be making a terrible mistake to go back to the 80s, where we cut all of those taxes and all of a sudden now we’ve got a debt that we’ve got to pay on an annual basis that is bigger than the amount that we spend on defense,” McCain said.
“Mr. McCain has voted against big tax cuts before, including two that passed under another Republican president: George W. Bush In that case, he bucked the majority of hi party on the grounds that the 2001 and 2003 cuts overwhelmingly benefited the rich – a widespread criticism of the current Senate legislation and the bill that has already passed the House. Mr. McCain is also a deficit hawk and could find it had to swallow a tax cut that will add around $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years.”
“In 2001, as Republicans forged ahead with a $1.35 trillion tax cut, Mr. McCain became one of two Republican senators to vote against the bill’s passage. He said he could not accept that changes to the bill lowered the top individual tax rate to 35% and delayed tax relief for married couples.”
‘We had an opportunity to provide much more tax relief to millions of hard-working Americans,” Mr. McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor. ‘But I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief.’
Two years later, Mr. McCain voted against another round of tax cuts. In his remarks in 2003, Mr. McCain again cast doubt on the need to use ‘billions of federal dollars to cut taxes for our nation’s wealthiest.’ The deal breaker that time was that his fellow lawmakers would pass such cuts while rejecting legislation that would have allowed members of the military to get tax breaks on profits from selling their homes.
Several of McCain’s associates said they wouldn’t be surprised if he voted against the senate bill, which he has criticized for being too generous with the wealthy.
“’I don’t know,’ Douglas Holtz-Eakin, policy adviser to Mr. McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said when asked how his former boss would vote on the tax overhaul. ‘For most people there are going to be things in there they don’t like and the question is what is preferable, the status quo or the bill.’”
During the 2000 Republican primary, when he ultimately lost out to George W Bush, McCain positioned himself as the candidate of fiscal restraint, advocating paying down the debt over tax cuts for the rich.
“We ought to pay down the debt, and we also ought to make Social Security solvent,” he said.
More recently, Mr. McCain has been toeing the party line on taxes.
In 2006, Mr. McCain supported extending the Bush tax cuts on the basis that letting them expire would represent a tax increase.
The tax plan that Mr. McCain crafted in 2008 during his presidential run against Barack Obama was even more mainstream Republican. He called for lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent, phasing out the alternative minimum tax and doubling the value of exemptions for each dependent to $7,000 from $3,500.
Anyone who was paying attention to McCain’s explanation for opposing the Republican health care plan will remember that one of his reason for opposing the bill was its lack of bipartisan support. Given the intensely partisan atmosphere that has persisted in Washington for much of the last decade, this sounds like an excuse for voting against the bill out of spite.
At the end of the day, McCain and fellow Trump opponents Bob Corker and Jeff Flake aren’t running again. They’ve already suggested that they find Trump and his agenda repugnant.
And with the Republicans’ razor-thin majority, three no votes would be enough to kill the bill, which is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote tomorrow.