WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Sunday touted his plans to slash unneeded spending to balance the federal budget and dismissed Democratic rivals as “out of touch” on the economy.
“My critics ... think we’re going to do business as usual in Washington. We’re not,” McCain said.
“I’m their worst nightmare,” he added, referring to supporters of programs that he considers responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in wasteful federal spending.
McCain also charged that Democratic White House foes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “are out of touch when they want to raise taxes (on the rich) at the worst possible time, when we’re in a recession.”
“We’re going to cut taxes. We’re going to reduce spending,” McCain told ABC’s “This Week” while Obama and Clinton campaigned for Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary.
“We’re going to put a freeze on discretionary spending. We’re going to make wealthy people pay for their own prescription drugs,” McCain said.
Challenged how he expects to find enough savings, McCain said: “You scrub every agency of government. Is there any American that doesn’t believe that there’s tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars that can be saved?”
The federal budget deficit is projected to be upward of $400 billion this year largely because of the economic slowdown amid the rising costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the economy replacing the Iraq war as the top concern among voters ahead of the November presidential election, McCain last week proposed a summer gas tax reduction and other tax relief in a bid to reassure the public.
Democrats denounced McCain’s ideas as reflecting Bush’s failed economic policies. Discretionary spending represents a small part of the budget. Medicare, Social Security and defense spending account for most of it.
McCain, a war hero and leading backer of the unpopular Iraq war, said the Defense Department was also ripe for cuts. “There are so many billions out there,” he said.
McCain, who has clinched the Republican presidential nomination, insisted he would be able to cut taxes and move to balance the budget in his first term.
“Now, if economic conditions continue to deteriorate, it’s going to be harder, but we’re going to be on a path to a balanced budget,” McCain said.
“I am here to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of wasteful and unnecessary spending in America, whether they be ethanol subsidies, whether they be sugar price supports, whether they be payments to the wealthiest farmers, whether they be the loopholes that are out there worth I don’t know how many billions and billions of dollars,” McCain said.
Concern is growing that budget deficits could explode in the next decade. The national debt has risen to nearly $9.3 trillion, from around $5.6 trillion, during Bush’s presidency.
On a personal level, McCain brushed off a story in The Washington Post on Sunday about his temper, saying examples cited were old, “totally untrue or grossly exaggerated.”
But McCain said he’s passionate about fixing Washington. “The American people are angry, too.” he said.
Asked about polls showing concern about his age, McCain, who turns 72 in August, said he was physically up to the job and that voters have seen him wage an aggressive campaign.
“They know I can bring about action now,” said McCain, who would be the oldest person ever sworn into a first term as president.
(Additional reporting Donna Smith)
Editing by Cynthia Osterman