Straight Talk About John McCain
AFSCME WORKS takes a look at the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee's track record on the economy, workers' rights, health care and protecting public services.
by Gonzalo Baeza
Photo Credit: Reuters, Carlos Barria
For 22 years, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) admirably served this nation as a naval aviator. For five and a half years of that service, he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Now that he is running for the nation's highest office, AFSCME is focusing on the record he has built, and the positions he has taken on key issues during his two decades in the U.S. Senate.
As a senator, McCain has taken stances that have sometimes pitted him against his own party such as his support for immigration reform. He's cultivated a political identity as a maverick, acting independently on some key issues. At the same time he's voted with the Republican Party 84 percent of the time during his Senate tenure, according to the non-partisan Congressional Quarterly magazine.
A good way to understand John McCain is by reviewing his support for the war in Iraq. He has continued to back the conflict in the face of both mounting evidence of its failure and growing bipartisan consensus to end it. McCain is one of the few politicians in Washington who has been a steadfast ally of Pres. George W. Bush's Iraq policy, recently asserting that it would be "fine with me" if U.S. troops stay "a hundred years."
While McCain's straight talk on the war may be admirable to some, the policy he defends is not, and he has stubbornly held on to his position when the facts clearly argue for change.
Regardless of the political label applied to him, and there have been many—he's been called a maverick, a conservative and a moderate—what really matters is how McCain has voted on the issues that matter to AFSCME members and America's working families. Here's a look at his record:
McCain on the Economy
For much of his time in the Senate, McCain has dedicated himself to foreign affairs, often to the exclusion of domestic policy. By his own admission, the economy is not his strong suit. Just last December, he told reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire that "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." These comments are particularly troubling when home prices and new home sales continue to fall at an alarming rate and 2 million Americans face foreclosure.
During a recent CNN debate he was asked if Americans were doing better now than they were eight years ago. McCain responded: "I think you could argue that Americans overall are better off because we have had a pretty good, prosperous time with low unemployment and low inflation, and a lot of good things have happened, a lot of jobs have been created."
Really? The experience of America's working families, and a multitude of economic indicators, tells another story: Americans are struggling. In January of 2001, unemployment stood at 6 million. This January, 7.6 million were jobless. This includes the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs that have been sent overseas. Since Bush has been in office, the number of Americans without health insurance has increased to 47 million and 37 million are living in poverty.
McCain on Workers' Rights
McCain's home state of Arizona is a "right to work" one with no collective bargaining for state employees. His career as a U.S. senator is consistent with Arizona's anti-worker laws. In 2004 he voted against protecting workers' overtime rights and in 2005 he voted to disqualify 10 million workers from minimum wage, overtime and equal pay protections.
Throughout his U.S. Senate tenure, McCain has also stood against unions and the right of workers to bargain for a better future. Last year he voted against collective bargaining rights for federal employees and then voted to filibuster the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to join unions—without employer interference and intimidation.
McCain on Health Care
On this vital issue, McCain seems to have borrowed a page from Bush's playbook. He does not think our health care system is broken and seems to believe it needs only a few changes around the edges, despite the fact that a record number of Americans are uninsured and health care costs are skyrocketing out of control, busting government budgets and making it harder for businesses to remain competitive.
McCain's plan for health care reform does not include negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices, nor does he stop insurance companies that want to deny coverage or charge more to cover those with pre-existing conditions.
Most recently, McCain voted against expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). It would have provided affordable quality health coverage for an additional 10 million children from low-income families. He said the bill covered too many children. During a recent Presidential debate, McCain called on Bush to veto the legislation, even though it enjoys broad bipartisan support—in fact, 18 Republican senators support it. In his floor speech prior to the vote, he even characterized SCHIP as "a dangerous step toward government-run health care insurance," ignoring the obvious: The initiative was modeled after Medicare, one of our nation's most successful social programs.
McCain's own health care reform plan would also make it difficult for senior citizens—or those who already suffer from an illness—to receive coverage. By moving away from employer-sponsored health insurance, he would pave the way for insurance companies to "cherry pick" healthy patients while turning down or charging higher rates to the rest.
In similar fashion, he voted in the Senate to block a bill that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate drug prices for millions of senior citizens, a practice that is currently forbidden by law.
Talk That's Not So Straight
Although known as a straight talker, he has been shifting his views recently to gain additional backing from financial contributors, party leaders and other interests McCain needs to keep building his campaign's momentum.
Take, for instance, his contradictory positions on Bush's tax cuts. In 2001 he opposed them, stating, "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."
Two years later, McCain again voted against a $350-billion tax cut sought by Bush for the same reason. He later said that he "voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthy Americans."
However, in 2006, with the 2008 Presidential elections on the horizon, McCain changed his position, voting for a bill to extend the tax cuts. "I do not believe in tax increases,” he said, pointing out how “not to extend them would have meant a tax increase."
This year he gave another explanation for changing his position and supporting the tax cuts after opposing them, saying: "We've got to make these tax cuts permanent." Then, during a Presidential debate he offered a new reason for previously opposing Bush's plan and supporting it now. "I disagreed when we had tax cuts without spending restraint," he said, while completely disregarding his previous opposition to the Bush tax cuts—that they would benefit only the wealthiest Americans.
In the end, John McCain's record speaks for itself. And when it comes to each of the Presidential candidates, AFSCME is going to focus on their records, not the labels and political spin.