What happened
John McCain spelled out his plan for the economy, calling for a gas-tax break for consumers burdened by high fuel costs and backing away from a promise to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term in the White House. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee also said he would cut corporate tax cuts and make permanent President Bush’s tax cuts, which he once opposed. McCain also vowed to veto any spending bill that contained earmarked pork-barrel spending. (The New York Times, free registration)

What the commentators said

McCain had to do something to show he’s as serious about the economy as he is about national security, said BusinessWeek.com in an analysis. His proposal to give motorists a break on gas taxes over the summer and his promise to simplify the tax code marked a “big leap forward in doing that.”

McCain has “acknowledged that he didn't know much about economics,” said The Boston Globe in an editorial (free registration), and his ill-conceived fiscal platform certainly backs that up. His unaffordable gas tax proposal is a prime example—“not even the inveterate tax cutter George Bush has the nerve to propose that one.” McCain is trying to deceive voters into thinking that “a president and Congress can sustain the government with endless tax cuts, deficit spending, and false savings.”

“I love the idea” of gas-tax relief, said Ross Balano in the Kansas City Star. The federal tax is 18.4 cents on a gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel. “When times get tough why should it only be the American People who must make do with less? Why does no one, until now, ever suggest that maybe the government should make do with a little less?”

“There are few tax cuts we don’t like,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, “but this one smacks of poll-driven gimmickry.” But some of McCain’s other tax proposals—giving people the option of paying a flat income tax, and slashing corporate tax rates to 25 percent from the current 35 percent—are right on the money. Now what McCain needs to do is show that he has a “guiding philosophy” on economics, so voters can be confident he “is willing to fight for the policies that produce prosperity.”