McCain sure makes it easy, doesn't he? Say it with me: John McCain was against balancing the budget by the end of his first term before he was for it. (Of course, before he was against it he was for it...that rarest of rare double flips.)
From The Politico:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to promise on Monday that he will balance the federal budget by the end of his first term by curbing wasteful spending and overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security, his advisers told Politico. [...]
The pledge is a return to an earlier position he'd later backed away from. On April 15, McCain backed off a February pledge to balance the budget in his first term when asked about it by Michael Cooper of The New York Times, who reported that McCain said "at a news conference ... that `economic conditions are reversed' and that he would have a balanced budget within eight years."
Now he's back to promising to achieve the impossible within just 4 years. How does he intend to do it? Well, in addition to "overhauling" Social Security, which worked out so well for George W. Bush, he'd use all the savings we reap from "victory" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Umm, right.
"The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction."
Maybe someone should tell him that his own Iraq policy involves staying in Iraq once his so-called victory is achieved...ya know, for 100 years after the point when the fighting stops, which is apparently when the staying starts. So even if this funding prescription weren't the sort of thing Harold Hill might sell to River City, it's really not clear that there will be any savings whatsoever by the time his first term is up.
Not to mention that what he's saying appears fantastically impossible. From Jason Furman, Obama's economic policy director:
Furman pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office now estimates a 2013 deficit of $443 billion, assuming the Bush tax cuts are extended. And he estimated that McCain would have to cut discretionary spending--including defense--by roughly one-third to bring the budget into the black by then.
"McCain would have to pay for all of his new tax cuts and other proposals and then, on top of that, cut an additional $443 billion from the budget--which is 81 percent of Medicare spending or 78 percent of all discretionary spending outside of defense," Furman said.
The upshot here is that, per usual, McCain is shifting his political position to pander to what he thinks people want to hear. But at the same time, once again, McCain seems to completely miscalculate what it is people want to hear. He has said repeatedly that he believes Republicans lost their majority in 2006 not because of the war but because of spending. Now, I won't deny that Republicans' profligate borrowing and spending led to severe disillusion among Republicans with their own party, but the idea that spending is the key to people's anxiety about government and the economy is a joke. If anything, people feel that there's too much spending abroad, that there needs to be more investment at home. It certainly makes sense for McCain to try to brand himself as a fiscally responsible Republican, the anti-Bush, but are people really going to buy the latest fiction he's peddling, especially when it seems so out of whack with the mood of the country?