McCain Makes No-New-Taxes Pledge

By Terence P. Jeffrey | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Sen. John McCain pledged Sunday on national television not to raise taxes under any circumstances if he is elected president.

"So on taxes, are you a 'read my lips' candidate, no new taxes, no matter what," host George Stephanopoulos asked the Arizona Republican on ABC's "This Week."

"No new taxes," McCain affirmed, before making an argument that taxes ought to be cut if the economy deteriorates.

"But under circumstances would you increase taxes?" Stephanopoulos asked in a follow-up question.

"No," said McCain.

McCain has taken heat during the Republican primary campaign for voting against the major tax cuts proposed by President Bush in 2001 and 2003. He was one of only a few congressional Republicans to do so.

Among Senate Republicans in 2001, only Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island joined McCain in voting against the Bush tax cut proposal. Among Senate Republicans in 2003, only Chafee and Olympia Snowe of Maine joined McCain in voting against Bush's second major tax cut.

McCain compounded conservative anger at this opposition to the Bush tax cuts by describing them as tax cuts made for the rich at the expense of the middle class, which was one of the principal argument marshaled against the tax cuts by congressional Democratic leaders and liberal commentators.

"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," McCain said on the Senate floor on May 26, 2001, when the tax cut came up for a vote.

When the 2003 tax cut came up for a final vote, McCain argued again that it was a tax cut for the rich and that the final version of the bill unfairly left out an amendment he had sponsored that would have provided additional tax breaks to members of the Armed Forces.

"Despite the recent successful war in Iraq, which highlighted the bravery and sacrifice of our military, the conferees provided nothing for them in this so-called growth bill," McCain said on the Senate floor on May 23, 2003. "The only thing growing will be the tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens of this country."

The 2001 tax-cut law reduced the marginal income tax rates, repealed the income-tax marriage penalty, provided a tax credit for dependent children, and temporarily repealed the federal estate tax. The 2003 tax-cut law accelerated the tax credit for dependent children and cut dividends and capital gains taxes.

The phrase "read my lips" became famous in the 1988 presidential campaign, when then-Vice President George H. W. Bush used it in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention to convince skeptical conservatives that he shared President Reagan's vision on taxes and that he would veto any tax increase that emerged from a Democratic Congress.

As president, the senior Bush did sign a major tax increase and was defeated for re-election in 1992 by then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

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