McCain Backtracks on Social Security Tax Hike

By Greg Wallace

Jun 10, 2008 7:34pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Gregory Wallace Report: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hammered Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on Tuesday for proposing higher Social Security taxes. The presumptive Republican nominee neglected to mention, however, that he was open to a similar approach in 2005.

"The Social Security tax cap, he wants to raise from $105,000 to I think $200,000," McCain told Bloomberg News’ Peter Cook. "Do you know how many employers, small-business people that would mean a 12-percent increase in their Social Security tax?"

" I mean, this is just — Senator Obama wants to raise taxes," he continued.  "I want to keep tax cuts in place. And I think that it’s important that in a time of real crisis, economic crisis in America, the last thing we want to do is raise people’s taxes now."

On a Feb., 23, 2005, edition of "Meet the Press," NBC’s Tim Russert asked McCain if he would support "as part of the solution to Social Security’s solvency problem, that you lift the cap so that you would pay payroll tax, Social Security tax, not just on the first $90,000 of your income, but perhaps even higher?"

“As part of a compromise," said McCain, "I could, and other sacrifices, because we all know that it doesn’t add up until we make some very serious and fundamental changes.”

Two years later, during a May 13, 2007, appearance on "Meet the Press," Russert asked McCain if he was still open to lifting the Social Security tax cap as part of a compromise.

The Arizona senator said that he is opposed to tax increases while acknowledging that "tough decisions" would be needed as part of a compromise.

"Am I opposed to tax increases?" said McCain. "Yes. But we’ve got to sit down together and figure out what our options are, and tough decisions have to be made, Republicans and Democrats. And I know how to do that."

Asked about the 2005 remark, a McCain spokesman acknowledged the tension with his current position while arguing that the Arizona senator’s criticism of his Democratic rival is still valid because McCain has spoken out against higher Social Security taxes as a 2008 White House hopeful.

“The contrast here couldn’t be more clear, and pulling one dated quote out of thousands won’t change it," McCain adviser Brian Rogers told ABC News. "John McCain believes we can fix Social Security without raising taxes. Senator Obama has made clear his intention to uncap the payroll tax, raising taxes while failing to restore the program’s long-term solvency.”

To put the retirement program on sounder footing, Obama has suggested imposing the 12.4 percent Social Security tax on more income.

At present, the tax is only imposed on roughly the first $100,000 of income.

In a 2007 op-ed written for an Iowa newspaper, Obama floated the possibility of completing eliminating the Social Security tax cap.

More recently, Obama and his advisers have said on multiple occasions that he would continue to exempt income between roughly $100,000 and around $200,000 from the Social Security tax while imposing it on income above $200,000.

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