Raising the ante in White House race

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain each rolled out new proposals this week to aid the ailing economy with another infusion of taxpayer dollars.

Obama’s plan would cost an estimated $60 billion, but the supposedly conservative McCain is not exactly miserly with a plan pegged at $52 billion.

Both men are counting on their plans to win votes. And who can blame them? When a solid majority of Americans tell pollsters that the economy will be the decisive issue this election, there’s little reason for candidates to talk about things like the war on terror or the coming crunch with Medicare and Social Security.

Still, a little restraint would be welcome. The impact of the $700 billion plan to ease the credit crisis cannot be determined yet. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s plan to use $250 billion of that $700 billion for a direct infusion of cash to banks large and small was only announced Tuesday. It would seem prudent to evaluate how that works before rushing to spend even more tax money.

But populism trumps prudence in presidential politics. So each candidate is offering plans to assist “the American people,” as if dealing with the credit crisis and stabilizing banks doesn’t help all Americans.

Both plans would temporarily suspend income taxes on unemployment benefits. Both would also reduce penalties or taxes on withdrawals from retirement savings accounts.

McCain would cut the capital gains tax in half, to 7.5 percent, while Obama would offer a temporary tax credit for companies that create jobs in the United States.

None of these ideas is inherently awful, but before taxpayers go even deeper in hock, we ought to see how the economy responds to existing efforts.

Too bad neither candidate seems willing to provide voters with that straightforward message.


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