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Voters weighing Obama, McCain tax plans

Nearly 3 in 4 see taxes and budget deficits as 'extremely' or 'very' important in the 2008 campaign.

By Staff writer / September 8, 2008

‘Trickle down' questioned: Boston teacher Berta Berriz, here with her husband, freelance writer Ty dePass, says, “I would pay more taxes to have children well fed and children out of poverty.” She favors Obama.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor


With both John McCain and Barack Obama offering tax cuts, the 2008 election promises a boost for the typical family budget. But it could also strain the much larger budget of the US government.

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Already America is in a deep financial hole. The nation has made big promises to future generations without a clear plan on how to pay. Will the next president keep digging that hole?

That’s just one of the fiscal questions that voters across America are weighing.

In Tulsa, Okla., photographer Chris Humphrey wants to see a plan that will spur economic growth. As Boston schoolteacher Berta Berriz considers what’s fair, she argues for higher taxes on the wealthiest.

In polls, nearly 3 in 4 voters see taxes and budget deficits as “extremely” or “very” important – a ranking not far behind energy, healthcare, and the war in Iraq. Tax policy experts say Americans are right to feel concerned.

“We’re eventually going to face this enormous problem, and huge measures are going to have to be taken,” says Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It would certainly be better to have a smoother transition to a sustainable system.”

Yet in these next four years, Dr. Auerbach says, it’s possible that even a self-proclaimed “agent of change” in the White House will leave the thorniest fiscal problems unresolved.

Certainly, the campaigns themselves are talking much more about near-term tax relief than about tough choices for the long haul. And they are doing it in distinctly different ways.

Republican candidate John McCain calls for broad tax reductions for businesses and the very rich.

Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, has a more targeted plan aimed at low-income workers and the middle class. But if Senator Obama offers slightly smaller tax cuts, he offsets it on the other side of the fiscal ledger with significant new spending plans.

Neither candidate denies America’s long-run challenge: that the government will have a hard time supporting spending programs – notably for healthcare – that are projected to rise faster than tax revenues.

But they are relatively vague on how to solve the problem, even as they urge very specific measures that seem likely to deepen the fiscal hole.

Politicians often pitch tax cuts as a stimulant to economic growth. But it’s vital to consider, too, the economic consequences of government borrowing, say fiscal policy analysts.