Advisers give clue to candidates on economy

"I have a big Rolodex," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who is McCain's domestic policy adviser. "McCain likes a broad array of views. He's not an ideological sort of guy."

The campaign's top economic advisers include Fiorina and Meg Whitman, formerly of eBay.

Democrats delight in pointing out Fiorina's dismissal by the Hewlett-Packard board, which granted her an $11 million payout, the type of going-away package McCain rails against. Fiorina notes McCain has called for shareholder approval for executive pay packages and says hers was backed by shareholders.

Many members of McCain's team are executives with strong ties to Wall Street:

• John Thain became CEO of Merrill Lynch in December, after its board ousted Stan O'Neal. Thain's $81 million pay package made him the second highest-earning CEO in the nation this year. Bloomberg News reported that Thain could make another $11 million in accelerated stock payouts in light of the sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America.

• During 2007, Whitman's last full year as CEO at eBay, her salary, bonuses and stock options totaled $10 million. Forbes magazine estimated her personal wealth this year at $1.3 billion. In 2001 and 2002, she was director of Goldman Sachs, one of the two remaining independent investment banks in the USA.

Holtz-Eakin says he sees no conflict about consulting Thain, who joined the McCain team before taking over Merrill Lynch. He says Thain did a great job taking the company from a "troubled place" to a "successful purchase."

Other McCain advisers include deregulation specialist Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute and Taylor, the Stanford professor. Also on McCain's list is Martin Feldstein, a top economics adviser to President Reagan.

Wallison, who has backed deregulation of business and financial markets throughout a career in government and the private sector, says he and McCain have "been for regulation when it's necessary." A former White House counsel to Ronald Reagan, he says McCain favored cracking down on the excesses of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac "when the Democrats were opposed to it."

The financial crisis — and the calls for increased regulation it has inspired — has seemed to catch McCain off-guard at times. This week, he said he was opposed to a government bailout of insurance giant AIG. Then, after such a bailout was announced, he said it was probably necessary. (Obama did not express an opinion on the bailout but said it was the product of "failed economic policy" by Republicans.)

Thursday, McCain unveiled a plan to create a "mortgage and financial institutions trust" that would "identify institutions that are weak and take remedies to strengthen them."

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